Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, paperback novel, 288 pages, first published 2007, this edition published by Razorbill in 2011.
When Clay receives an anonymous package containing a series of cassette tapes, he is startled to discover they contain the voice of his friend and love interest, Hannah Baker. Her voice comes to him from the grave, describing and explaining the reasons behind her decision to end her own life.
Thirteen Reasons Why had been on my to read list for quite a while. But I have a confession to make; I actually watched the Netflix series before reading the book! I know, I know, I do usually read the book first, but I was sick, and sad, and the series looked interesting…. Anyway, I watched it, and I loved it.
I also liked the book, but this is one of those rare occasions where I preferred the screen version. The acting, casting and soundtrack were all good, but it was the emotiveness of the story that stuck with me. I felt Hannah becoming isolated, I felt her sadness, her resignation, and her acceptance. I also felt her parents’ devastation and the repercussions her death had on her family, on Clay and on Tony, and the ripples that moved through the wider school community. It is those left behind that are also victims of suicide, but it is rare that they have a chance to understand the reasons behind the final act.
Knowing the outcome from the start, knowing that Hannah takes her life before we even get a feel for her, made this novel an haunting memoir of a life at risk. It explored the many facets that can intertwine and connect leading to depression and suicide in teens. Even a small act can change the course of a life forever, and you can never predict what consequences will be wrought.
The Netflix series had thirteen parts; an episode for each side of each tape. That was an hour dedicated to each story Hannah tells. This allowed the characters to be fleshed out and explained in a way not usually encountered in a film or TV adaptation. There was so much more to the characters, we got to see them not only through Hannah’s eyes, but as the teens they were, and those they became. We saw how listening to the tapes affected them, and changed the course of their own lives. There was such depth to each person that the book could not explore fully since we only heard about them through Hannah’s voice on the tapes.
Inevitably there were some changes made, such as the type of store Hannah’s parents owned, the secret that Courtney wanted to keep, Clay’s relationship to the car crash victim, much bigger roles for both Hannah’s and Clay’s parents. However, I felt that the biggest change from book to screen was the timeline that Clay followed whilst listening to the tapes; in the books it’s all over in one night and told mostly in the past, in the series the story is played out over days, with interactions with all the other students involved in both the present and the past. Threads were added, exploring the way that Clay dealt not only with Hannah’s death, but also the actions that he undertakes in reaction to the other students’ stories. I found all these differences only enhanced the story and made it even more poignant.
Whether you read it or watch the series (I recommend you do both!), Thirteen Reasons Why is a story that will stay with you forever.
Thirteen Reasons Why is suitable for middle to upper high school students and above. It contains themes of depression, suicide, bullying, rape and sexual assault. It may be overly upsetting to some readers.