Clay Jensen comes home to find a package waiting for him with seven cassette tapes inside. Immediately, he starts playing the first, and regrets it. The tapes are from Hannah Baker, Clay’s longtime crush, a girl who killed herself two weeks previously. And according to Hannah, these tapes are addressed to the thirteen people she blames for ruining her life, the thirteen reasons why she committed suicide.
I could not put this book down. This is not a book to pick up at 2 in the afternoon on Tuesday. I made that mistake. I read while eating, read while watching the news, read during commercial breaks of the only tv show I watch (NCIS)… Finally, around 10:15, I told my husband there was no way I would be able to go to bed without finishing. I gave myself up, no matter how much my eyes hurt, no matter how tired I got. This would make an excellent late night Read-a-thon book! It’s amazing all around.
Now I know, just a few posts ago, I was complaining about books that make me turn the pages so fast I get tired. Books that dragged me along and didn’t let me stop. I can’t apply the same rules here. The Knife of Never Letting Go was plot-based. I was running along an adventure. Thirteen Reasons Why is a psychological drama, with very little actual plot. Tons of downtime, even if I was still turning pages. It’s a narrative, a listening to thirteen sides of cassette tape, and hearing Clay’s thoughts and memories as he follows along with Hannah’s. Though you meet few of the characters, you get to know them through Hannah’s perspective.
Suicide. Can you blame someone else for a death that you chose? Or is that just a cop-out? Are the thirteen victims of Hannah’s revenge honestly responsible for her death? Perhaps not. Sure, they might have caused misery in one form or another, some worse than others. But a lot of the things they did were just stupid kid stuff, stuff I remember happening to kids in middle school. Stuff most people get over, even if they have a few scars afterwards. Sure, there were some that were really nasty (like the Peeping Tom or the guy stealing the “encouragement notes”). But some things Hannah talks about were so trivial on the surface that no one knew how badly they affected her. I don’t know that Asher gives a clear answer to who ought to take the blame. Hannah? Her tormentors and teasers? The one person who doesn’t torment her but also doesn’t know how to help? Hannah knew what she was doing. She very clearly planned out her death and the ramifications with these tapes. However, she may never have gotten to that level of depression if it weren’t for the things that happened to her. It all becomes so muddled, it’s hard to say which side of the story is right.
I feel sorry for many of these characters. I feel sorry for Clay, for Hannah, for several of the people on the tape who were simply stupid, callous teenagers. I don’t feel sorry for several others, people who deliberately used Hannah in one way or another in order to gratify their own feelings. But no matter who has what share in the story, one thing is clear: all actions, large or small, affect others. You never know who may be teetering on the edge of a precipice, begging to be pulled back, only needing the tiniest push to fall.
I want to relate a small personal story, names omitted. Normally I don’t get so personal in my book reviews, but this book hit very close to home, and this is why. I knew a girl in high school, and really cared about her. For years, she was suicidal, and she would call me every time she decided to die. To say goodbye. And I had to find the magic words to fix things. I did everything I knew, and was terrified that one day she wouldn’t call. Then, one day at school, another friend said something to me I’ll never forget: “Why do you bother worrying about her? You know one day she’ll just kill herself anyway.” I hated him for saying that. I hated him for his attitude and nonchalance. I swore I would continue to help my friend as long as she needed me.
Thirteen years later, my friend is alive and much healthier. She hasn’t called me to say goodbye in at least a decade. I love her and am glad that I never gave up on her, that when I was her last resort, I didn’t take the easy road out. People have said it wasn’t fair of her to do all that to me, but I don’t care. I didn’t care. I never once considered abandoning her. If I had, she very well might not be alive right now. I’m glad I was able to be her lifeline, the arm that pulled her off the precipice every time she got too close to falling. Our actions really can make a difference.