Friday, 1 May 2015

Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher

Th1rteen R3asons Why (2007) (Razorbill, Penguin)
Jay Asher
Grade: B-
Genre: young adult
Source: own

When Clay Jensen receives a package of cassette tapes in the post, the last thing he expects is to hear a dead girl talking to him. Hannah Baker killed herself several weeks ago, and no one knows why. For Clay, who had a secret crush on Hannah for ages, yet never worked up the courage to ask her out, to hear her story now is devastating. Relatively new to the town and school, Hannah found herself saddled with a reputation amongst her peers that was, for the most part, undeserved and utterly false. Through thirteen stories, Hannah reveals the thirteen people at school who helped her make the decision to end her life. Told through Hannah and Clay’s dual narrative, Jay Asher’s debut explores how the smallest actions and remarks can have a massive impact on others’ lives.

This is another book that’s been sitting on my shelf since 2009 (clearly my year for buying (young adult) books and not reading them), TRW was a debut that I’d heard a lot of critical acclaim about online; it has won and been nominated for more than a handful of awards to prove it. Jay Asher has used a really innovative way of storytelling to capture and convey a serious and heart-breaking topic in a sensitive manner. There’s a really fine balance to be struck and he manages it with aplomb.

It’s a strange narrative, but it works brilliantly. Hannah is speaking through the tapes and you get Clay’s reaction instantaneously – at times, the power of this is like a punch in the gut. A lot of books switch between multiple characters points of view between chapters, but this works so much better given the circumstances and storyline. I couldn’t connect very well with Clay or Hannah, but that’s not necessarily the point. TRW highlights the devastating effects of persistent bullying and challenges all readers to think about the impact of their treatment of others. There’s a powerful but simple lesson to be learnt here about just being a nice human being. Lots of people could do well to remember this.

I’m not sure I’d read this again, but it was an interesting, gripping and potent read while it lasted – I can see why it’s award-winning. I love the format of the book (more authors need to think out-of-the-box like this!) and the book also features the best author interview I’ve come across: Jay Asher answers thirteen questions about the book. It’s usually a lottery whether or not I’ll read an author interview, and more often than not, I won’t take anything (useful) away from it. Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson, Gayle Forman and Sara Zarr will love this. 

Image courtesy of Book Depository.

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