Monday, February 07, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why

I read like crazy in January. At the end of the month, I found that I had read seven books. For comparison, when I was doing the Year of 25 Books last year, it took me until April to get the the seventh book. Admittedly, one of seven in January was kind of a cheat because it was so easy to read, but it still counts! So stepping away from the computer and actively trying to read more actually DOES work.

The last book I read in January was Jay Asher's young adult novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. This book had been recommended to me by my friend Bess last year. (EDIT: As it turns out, it wasn't Bess, and I'll be goddamned if I can remember who it was!) All during 2010, I kept meaning to read it but it is constantly checked out of the library and my to-be-read pile was always threatening to fall over anyway. I finally decided to put it on hold at the library and naturally, it arrived while I was reading something else. I swear, that's how it always works out for me. But I did manage to finish it on the last day of January.

High school student Hannah Baker has committed suicide. A week or so later, a box of tapes ends up on the front step of her classmate Clay Jensen's house. On these tapes are Hannah Baker's last "fuck you" to the world. She says that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to kill herself. All of them are people and all of them must listen to these tapes to find out why. They must then pass them on to the next person on the list like a demented chain letter. If the chain is broken, a duplicate set of tapes will be released to the public and well, nobody wants that to happen.

Let me be honest, Thirteen Reasons Why has teenage angst leaking out of the page and all over the floor. And it made me absolutely crazy. I'm fond of saying that teenage angst should be measured in angstroms because that's how big it really is vs. how big it seems. Trust me, I've been there and I know. I have a sneaking suspicion that Asher wanted us to feel bad for Hannah but honestly, I really didn't. I found her to be self-centered and annoying and not as smart as she thought she was. She was not a sympathetic character at all. The things that happened to her were bad, yes, especially what happened with the thirteenth person, but when it was all taken into account and looked at as a whole, was it really worth ending her life over it? I suppose that's the point. It's never as bad as it seems and suicide is never the answer. Hannah's victim mentality just never really jibed with her story and made her seem like a big drama queen. If anything, she was more a victim of her own inner thoughts, ascribing a bigger meaning to events than they really had.

I'm sure this makes me sound like an insensitive boor that hasn't a single iota of compassion for the problems teenagers face these days. Actually, it's the opposite, especially as my own daughter approaches her teenage years. We're still a ways off from it, but it'll be here before I know it and already, I have to bite my tongue a little bit when she comes home from school with something that is the end of the world as we know it because I know full well it's not. I remember feeling the same way as a teenager, except most of my visions of the apocalypse were internal and, like Hannah, I tended to see one psychological drama after another in everything - something followed me well into my 30s.

As I read the book, I wondered if I would have felt any differently about it had I been 17 when I read it. This is, without a doubt, a book I would have lapped up at that age and probably even into my first few years of college. Maybe it's similar to how you perceive Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. If you meet him in high school, he's an anti-establishment hero. A whole lot later than that and he comes off as a big fat whiner. Maybe that's why I didn't connect to this story. If anything, I felt bad for Clay who was incredulous as to his involvement in Hannah's suicide for her really actually liked Hannah quite a bit.

So I guess I'll chalk this up to not being the target audience of a book. For me it's like Carly Simon says, "melodrama never makes me weep anymore."

1 comment:

Crystal said...

Oh, god yes. I HATE Holden with a burning passion, and I didn't read him until my mid to late twenties.

I'd been eying Thirteen Reasons Why. Good to know it's not worth it.