AKA the review that nearly stopped me blogging.
Guys, this is the THIRD time that I have written this review out IN FULL because WordPress decided to delete it from my drafts. Of course, it’s chosen to do this with the one review that’s complicated, uses loads of links and isn’t easy to piece back together from my notes. Why? No idea. Does anyone else have this problem? Just me? Aargh!
Anyway, moan over. On to the review.
“You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret…is to press play”
Trigger Warnings: Suicide, depression, rape, terrible writing
Genre: Young Adult
Similar to: I don’t know. I’ve successfully avoided anything this bad for a long time
Could be enjoyed by: Hopefully, only people who don’t take inspiration from this novel.
Publication date: 6th August 2009
You know a novel is going to be problematic when the Samaritans produce guidance specifically for it’s readers. Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker, a suicidal teen who takes her own life, but not before recording thirteen sides of cassette tape (ask your parents) giving the “reasons” for her death – essentially naming and shaming those who have wronged her and caused her to take her own life.
I can’t even begin to explain how mad that ridiculous premise makes me. The depiction of mental health issues in the book is awful; truly a dreadful way to depict depression and glorify suicide. I thought it was at best crass and unhelpful and at worst dangerous. So, I’ve made my own special little mixtape explaining my thoughts and feelings, called:
Thirteen Reasongs Why I Did Not Care for This Novel
1.Squeeze – Up The Junction
(A blow by blow account of a doomed situation)
Issue number one – the writing.
I hated the fact that the book was written as a continuous account of everything Clay did over the course of one night. I didn’t see the point of him wandering round his town, visiting the scenes of the events Hannah was talking about on the tapes. Also, as someone who spent their teenage years making hundreds of mixtapes, they’re always 90 minutes long. So that’s 9 hours and 45 minutes of continuous observation about a boy listening to a tape. No wonder I kept zoning out.
2. The Smiths – Heaven Knows In Miserable Now
Issue number two – the characters.
I found Hannah to be a difficult character to like. Yes, she had a lot of really bad stuff happen to her, but the way that she talked about every single thing that had annoyed/upset her started to grate after a while. And I hated the way that Clay took the responsibility for something that clearly wasn’t on him. His inclusion in the tapes made me hate Hannah even more. Everyone else was basically a dick.
3. The Manic Street Preachers – Suicide is Painless
Issue number three – the glamorization of suicide.
When people kill themselves, they leave a void. A gap in a photo. An empty place at the dinner table. A silence so loud it’s deafening. They do not die in a blaze of vengeful glory. I hated – hated- the way that Hannah’s death wasn’t discussed except in the context of guilt from those who had wronged her before she died. There was nothing about the physical pain, the dreadful, messy, gut wrenching last moments of Hannah’s life, let alone the impact of her death on her family and friends – the anger, the sadness, the lack of understanding, the sheer agony that her suicide caused. Her death was framed as a way of getting revenge and I worry that this could be inspirational to people who are struggling in real life.
4. Tori Amos – Happy Phantom
Issue number four – getting revenge from beyond the grave.
Similarly, the disembodied voice of Hannah getting her revenge from beyond the grave was incredibly worrying. Hannah. Was. Gone. She did not get her revenge. She wasn’t laughing it up in the afterlife. When she passed away, everyone lost – including her.
5. Metallica – The Unforgiven
Issue number five – the blame game.
I really took offense to the idea that someone has committed suicide because they were perfectly happy but then you were horrible to them and now they’ve had to go and commit suicide.
I’m sure there are many, many people out there who have had a loved one take their own life and have endlessly blamed themselves for the situation. I’m sure they’ve thought over and over about their actions, the things they said, the texts they didn’t send, the way they didn’t want to ask if everything was ok because they didn’t want to pry. If this has happened to you, I want you to know that IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. I hate that Thirteen Reasons Why totally ignored Hannah’s obvious mental health issues and made out that she would be perfectly happy if it weren’t for her classmates actions.
6. The Smiths – There is a Light that Never Goes Out
Issue number six – the presentation of depression inevitably ending in suicide.
Suicide does not have to be the end result of depression. There is always help out there and people who will listen to you (I’ve included links at the end of this post). I hated that Hannah only made one vague attempt to get help from a teacher but because he didn’t ask the right questions she completely gave up – and then blamed everyone for not noticing her depression (peak whiny moment – I cut my hair guys – you should have spotted the signs!) Again, there will be people out there blaming themselves for the suicide of a loved one and this book reinforces that guilt which is so, so wrong.
7. Metallica – St. Anger
Issue number seven – I’m suicidally depressed but I’m going to present it as coherent anger.
Just – WTF. People who are suicidal are literally not thinking straight. They’re certainly not coherently planning their revenge. I hated that anger was the only emotion presented by Hannah and that all of her sadness/lack of personal care wasn’t shown. At worst this could make someone not associate their own feelings with those of a depressed person and at best was plain unrealistic.
8. Death Cab for Cutie – I Will Follow You Into the Dark
Issue number eight – the romance.
Hannah deliberately used Clay’s feelings about her to guilt him into thinking that he’d done something wrong. I thought that was extra specially messed up.
9. The Cure – Boys Don’t Cry
Issue number nine – the way the storyline backs up the lies mental illness tells you.
Mental illness is like a little voice in your head, tellingly that you’re not good enough, that people won’t care about you, that they’d be happier if you weren’t here. I thought that Thirteen Reasons Why backed this up – Hannah was bullied and broken, she had no way of fighting back, therefore the only way for her to get her revenge was to die and leave the tapes as her legacy. This is all kinds of wrong. There’s always another way out. Hannah did not have to die to resolve this situation.
10. Kate Bush – Hammer Horror
Issue number ten – the portrayal of Hannah as a villain
I really, really didn’t like the way that Hannah was shown as both a victim and a villain. She was clearly ill so I don’t think it’s appropriate to present her as some kind of evil genius, laughing in her grave. Horrible.
11. Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere
Issue number eleven – the crass depiction of the suicide game
Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think that the tragic death of a teenage girl should be turned into a bloody treasure hunt. Someone who is suicidal is by definition not thinking straight and the idea that their death can become some kind of sick game seemed completely crass to me.
12. Nirvana – Rape Me
Issue number twelve – the rape scene
Ah, the rape scene. I hated everything about it – the way that Hannah does nothing then outs the raped girl on the tapes, the way that it’s written almost as an inevitability – drunk girl at a party, guess what’s going to happen next? and the way that there’s no follow up, no repocussions, no advice or help for the reader. I thought it was totally irresponsible way to portray something so serious.
13. REM – Everybody Hurts
Issue number thirteen – the completely wasted opportunity to have a decent, informative discussion of mental health issues
Depression, anxiety, low self esteem and a whole smorgasbord of other horrible mental health conditions can affect anyone at any time. I really disliked the entire portrayal of mental health issues throughout this novel and thought that it was such a wasted opportunity to have a realistic portrayal of depression. I’m hoping that responsible parents/guardians/teachers/caregivers will use Thirteen Reasons Why to broach the subject of mental health with teenagers and I’m pleased to see that there’s lots of information out there – well written, professional, decent information – to accompany the series. However, it makes me angry that charities have had to respond in such a way specifically because Thirteen Reasons Why is so problematic. I hope Jay Asher has made some pretty hefty donations to these organisations.
If you have read or watched Thirteen Reasons Why and you identify with any of the issues raised in the book, such as suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety etc. there’s lots of help available to you. Please, please, please talk to someone you trust, or if you’re unable to open up to someone you know, I’ve listed some helpful organisations below:
UK & ROI
The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or by emailing email@example.com.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be contacted on 1-800-273-8255.
Rest of the World
The International Association for Suicide Prevention has a great website that lists all of the crisis centres around the world.