Audio Review: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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January 5, 2012 by Heidi

audiobook cover for Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Title: Thirteen Reasons Why [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Jay Asher [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary 
Published: October 18th, 2007 by Razorbill
Format: Audiobook; 6 hrs, 24 mins.  Read by Debra Wiseman and Joel Johnstone 
Source: Borrowed from my local library.I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, but who gets ‘in the mood’ to read a book about suicide?  It’s akin to how I’ve been meaning to rewatch Schindler’s List since I first saw it quite young, but again…who gets in that mood?Thirteen Reasons Why begins when Clay comes home to find a package with his name on it.  He’s surprised to find it contains outdated audiotapes, numbered with what looks like blue nail polish.  There’s no return address, but as soon as he begins listening he knows who the tapes are from–Hannah.  Hannah, who Clay had a crush on for several years.  Hannah who he had made out with one night at a party where she lost it.  Hannah who’s no longer there…because two weeks ago, she killed herself.  The tapes Clay receives tell the story of thirteen reasons why Hannah came to the decision she did.  

I thought that a book about tape recordings would best be ingested as an audiobook, and I stand by that.  I’m glad I was listening at home though, because I’m not sure how I would have handled driving through this.  It’s no secret that I had a hard time with this book, who wouldn’t?  I’ve been where Hannah was, but was lucky enough to have the support that led me to a different decision.  That said, I’m going to try to keep this review from getting overly personal because you don’t all need to know my story.  We all have our own stories, trust me, someone cares about yours.  

Clay is, to put it mildly, upset when he receives Hannah’s tapes.  He’s grappling with feelings of anger, not understanding how she could have done what she did, not understanding what he did to deserve these tapes.  He cared about Hannah, he’d been trying for years to find a way to connect with her, and he finally thought he had, but she pushed him away.  Why?  Both Clay and Hannah have/had reputations; Clay is known as the “nice guy”, he’s about to be valedictorian, he’s responsible, and everyone likes him.  Hannah has a very different reputation, and as Clay listens to her tapes, we see how it was formed.

Thirteen Reasons Why reflects how a snowball can form from actions, and consequences can add up to be much greater than the sum of those actions.  I found myself sharing many of the feelings Clay was experiencing.  I was mad at Hannah.  Suicide, to me, seems incredibly selfish, and creating tapes to let people know that they are to blame for your decision?  I’m not sure I can imagine anything more vindictive or horrible.  Hannah says she wants people to think about their actions, to let them know how they affect others

Waiting to find out why Clay was on the tapes (because he was so certain he didn’t belong) was almost sickening.  It reminded me of Elizabeth Miles’s Fury, waiting to know what Chase did…

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and so I have to admit I was almost disappointed when I found out Clay didn’t belong, that he didn’t do anything wrong.  Afterward I understood that we needed Clay as the vessel for this story, that we need someone who was innocent, who had reached out too late, or the story would have been truly unbearable.


We experience this story almost as a conversation between Hannah and Clay, each sharing their sides of the story and the people they involve. For Clay, many are revelations:

“With every side of every tape, an old memory gets turned upside down.  A reputation twists into someone I don’t recognize.”

As the tapes moved forward, I found my anger at Hannah dissipating, and a horrid understanding taking control.  It stops feeling like she is blaming others for her situation, and is turning inward, blaming herself.  Hannah became apathetic, she gave up on herself and wouldn’t let anyone reach her.  Worst of all–she knew it.  She knew that she chose it, that she was alone because she wanted to be, but that doesn’t make it right.  Hannah shouldn’t have gotten there, someone should have reached out sooner.  Not that I’m blaming others for her choice, I’m not, but I do sincerely think that Hannah could have been reached.  

Thirteen Reasons Why for me was a similar reading experience to that of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.  Speak, to me, is a powerful book for those experiencing depression, whereas Thirteen Reasons Why might be more powerful for those seeing depression from the outside.  I’d like to share a post by Karen over at Teen Librarian’s Toolbox on this book, teens, and suicide, as she is perhaps more eloquent than I, and shares some wonderful resources on the subject.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  I just picked up The Future of Us, which is coauthored by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, so I’m sure you’ll be seeing a review for that one very soon!

Recommended for: Everyone.  It is my strong belief that everyone in their lifetime will be touched by depression, whether experiencing it themselves or seeing it in someone they care about.  Thirteen Reasons Why can help you to express yourself, understand, and reach out.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  This book left me raw.

Thirteen Reasons Why has a movie deal currently set for 2013, and you can read more about the book and related programs here.

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3 comments »

  1. Wow! This book is on all kinds of "Top Read" lists so I have had it on my radar but didn't really know the premise. I need to read this book but having a rather difficult childhood I wonder if it will be too much for me…

  2. This book made me cry many times as I read it. I read it after a close friend of mine attempted suicide. Luckily, he had a change of heart and forced himself to throw up all of the pills he had just swallowed. But I cried like a baby when I read this book. I just can’t imagine all of the things that Hannah went through and what made her want to end her life.

    Wonderful, wonderful review.

    • Heidi says:

      Thank you, Ashley! This book was so rough, it made me really angry. I did have a friend from college commit suicide this year, and I was pretty shocked. It’s had me reflecting a lot on this book and the things that led up to Hannah’s decision.

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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