Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I decided to read this book because my family was having a discussion on whether it's appropriate for my little brother to watch this, and my sister said "why don't you read the book?" (Or something to that effect. It's so easy to take things as invitations to read). And since I don't have time to binge watch a show, I read the book. Thanks, NLB for having the ebook!

Thirteen Reasons Why was a very hard book to read and yet I finished it in a day. If you've been living under a rock (like me most of the time) and haven't heard of it, the story is about a girl (Hannah) who kills herself and leaves behind 7 cassette tapes with 13 recordings of why she decided to do so.

The book basically jumps back and forth between Hannah's recordings and Clay's reaction to it, often paragraph by paragraph. For me, that made it a little hard to read and I basically ended up focusing on Hannah's narrative instead of Clay's day and what he was thinking (unless it was one of those stretches between tapes). I think this is a case where the story is more suited for TV - flashbacks in visual form may be less confusing.

And I don't know if it's gonna make me unpopular but I didn't really like Hannah. She came across and bitter and vindictive and it was only towards the end that I started to understand all the hurt that she felt and started to sympathise with her. I don't really have an opinion on Clay because he was basically "the one that got away" about Hannah and he never felt more than a way for the reader to learn about Hannah.

That said, I think this book dealt with some very pressing issues in a powerful way. Topics like sexual assault, victim blaming and the broken staircase were part of the book. The broken staircase one is not so explicitly stated but there is one character with the reputation (one of those on the list) that everyone seems to work around.

A friend of mine mentioned that some of her kids saw suicide as a viable alternative after watching it and I can see why. I can also see why others may see this the opposite way. Personally, I think there are three ways one can react to the book:

1. You realise that action (and inaction) has consequences and you start reaching out to those who are hurting. (SPOILER ALERT/i.e. you are Clay)

2. You realise you're not alone and that your suicide will affect others.

3. (Which is a spin on two) You think that suicide not only solves your problem, it does double duty as revenge on the people who bullied you, especially if you make that clear to them from beyond the grave.

Reason 3 is, I think, why this show has can cause a lot of harm. It's very easy to picture someone who's hurting very deeply and wants nothing more than a way out to see this and think "well, Hannah no longer has to face her problems and now everyone feels bad."

Which is why I wouldn't recommend this to kids lower secondary and below, unless they're mature for their age. I think this might be a good way to broach the topic of suicide (if a discussion is well-led), for upper sec/JC kids, but I wouldn't want younger kids to watch this, especially without any parental guidance. It's so easy to get the wrong idea from this, even though the producers have done their best by working with mental health experts.

Bottom line: this was an uncomfortable book to read, but I think it touches on some important issues. I'm also glad that I read this now and that this wasn't a thing in secondary school.

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