Everything… affects everything.
Hannah Baker killed herself. But she did not do it without first leaving her lasting impact on the world as she knew it. In a shoebox filled with seven doubled-sided tapes, thirteen stories, and one tangled web, she bears her soul to twelve people, each of which will receive the box and pass it on to the person whose story follows their own. Clay Jenson doesn’t know what number he is, but as he delves deep into Hannah’s world, he finds it doesn’t matter. Because each story would not exist if it weren’t for the one before. Meaning everyone is to blame. Nobody is getting off this time.
This is a story unlike anything else. There is simply nothing to compare it to. Of course you have the traditional suicide books where everything appears to be going wrong in the main character’s life in the extremist of ways. But this book… it wasn’t like that with this book. It sort of reminded me of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story in that it wasn’t ceremonial. It wasn’t the worst life. It was just a person who, more so than the last, felt things INTENSELY. Even the smallest of things. It was about a person who had given up, in my opinion, long before the first terrible something had struck.
I’m not exaggerating when I say these are small things occurring in Hannah Baker’s life. They are small things in the grand scheme of high school. I can go back to 9th grade and tick four, five, six things off the list she provided as her reasons why, along with many more that didn’t occur in the book. When it comes right down to it, the problem is that Hannah Baker was more in tune. She saw things with great magnitude. And she felt them deep in her core. The smallest change could shake her beyond irreparable means. Each event meant something. It was grand and large, and moving past it wasn’t something she was capable of.
I suppose she was quite like me. So I think I found myself really understanding Hannah Baker. Which is why I hate so much that she perished. But it is also why I think this book was kind of brilliant.
Unless you know what it feels like to feel everything on the grandest of scales, I think you’d assume suicide occurred in the lives of only those who were GREATLY suffering. But Jay Asher gets it. There’s a reason suicide is a silent killer. There’s a reason people you least expect to take their own lives are typically the ones that do.
Because it isn’t a how shitty is your life kind of deal. It’s a how does your brain work? How do you react when something bad happens? Can you solve your problems by simply talking about them? Do you take everything personally? Is everything a question of purpose, and whether or not you’re serving yours?
Suicide is not something that can be fought with medicine. It is not something you can understand unless it’s occurring to you. And even if it is, no case is similar. Each person has their own reasons. Sure, there are overlapping warning signs. There are the similarities in thought streams e.g. “The world is better off without me.” “It would just be easier to die.” But suicide is its own special condition that takes from those who are already weak.
Hannah Baker is a fighter, though. Make no mistake. She opened herself up to the possibility of living, and for somebody who hurts quite inexplicably, that is brave.
Looking back, I stopped writing in my notebook when I stopped wanting to know myself anymore.
I did grow frustrated with her. It’s hard to read about a character who has already taken their life. It’s excruciating. There isn’t a lot of hope in that storyline. And while you’re reading everything through somebody else’s eyes, you’re also getting their anger and their frustration and their confusion.
Which leads me to our main character, Clay, who was essentially Hannah’s polar opposite. Where Hannah’s reputation had been riddled with rumors of her supposed promiscuity, Clay’s was a blank page waiting to be written. I liked this contrast. I liked Clay.
He felt. He suffered. And their dueling story-lines worked for the most part. As Clay listened to the tapes, he frequently inserted thoughts of his own, reactions, and to truly get the full effect of how hard it is to receive something from someone, especially after they’ve committed suicide, you needed that perspective. You needed to be told how to feel. Otherwise you’re just reading about some girl whom you might believe to be selfish.
“Expose yourself,” they said. “Let us see your deepest and your darkest.”
My deepest and my darkest? What are you, my gynecologist?
I couldn’t believe it. Out of the blue, there you were.
No, not out of the blue. First I paced around the back-yard, cursing myself for being such a scared little boy.
Their back-and-forth had some really great moments.
A lot of the times though, the thoughts and interruptions seemed glaringly obvious. Like, no wonder this kid is receiving a box full of you’re-why-I-killed-myself tapes, because he’s oblivious. He frequently states the obvious, ripping the reader out of Hannah’s story, and offending them with a thought that they SO didn’t need to be told is what should be streaming through his or her head.
And then, you have Hannah, whom, if I’m being honest, sort of had highs and lows in her dialogue. There were points where I felt like she was wise beyond her years, and then there were points where she just didn’t make any sense. Where I had to read over her words five or six times before I could figure out what she was trying to say.
So, I struggled to keep track of the story. I lost characters. I had to read back several times. And while the author leaned too heavily on Clay to point out the obvious, he left a lot in Hannah’s story-line to our imaginations. A lot of holes. Some I didn’t know how to fill. Specifically her best friend, Kat, who played a larger role than I think was intended for her, and whom we never had a solid understanding of.
Well, what did you want to hear? Because I’ve heard so many stories that I don’t know which one is the most popular. But I do know which is the least popular.
Hannah was brutal. Brutal and honest and raw, and I hate that that had to become a side effect of her killing herself. If only she had stood up for herself before she’d chosen to give up. That’s the one thing I found interesting. She was brave only after the finality of the end being so near had rung.
Translation: Come on, Hannah, all I did was touch you with no indication that you wanted met o touch you. It it’ll make you feel better, go ahead, you can touch me wherever you’d like.
A lot of good themes ran through this novel. A lot of exploration of teenage behavior that has become stream-lined in society today. Hannah is the perfect example of what being a woman in the twenty-first century is like. Your worth is devalued by the person who’s looking at you. When there’s a lack of intelligence and maturity, your worth plummets. I liked the fact that Hannah’s persona hit highs and lows based purely upon the company she had kept. When you are around somebody who hasn’t been taught how to respect, it isn’t a show on their character, it becomes a show on yours. Especially if you are a woman and he is a man.
I didn’t have a lot of respect for Hannah myself until later on in the book when she started writing poetry as a way of expressing herself. I wanted her to fight. I wanted to feel like she hadn’t just thrown her hands in the air and passed over like she just didn’t care. And she didn’t. She fought her worst self with poetry. It gave me a small sense of hope for her character. She wasn’t completely doomed. There was some small human in there that wanted to live.
Something funny, shocking, or hurtful might happen and I’d think, This is going to make for one fascinating poem.
Totally how I think. Totally.
They went on to call Earth a knocked-up gaseous alien needing an abortion.
Kind of true.
For this book spanning the distance of only one solitary night, Clay had quite the character arc. He went from just assuming and taking the blame, to questioning why he should be blamed at all. And even though it doesn’t seem like that big of a difference, for people who victimize themselves, actually stepping back and choosing to be indifferent is huge. It’s a learned quality.
As for the writing, because you know when I write a review, no author gets off easily when it comes to their prose, I want to say he did a good job. Like I said, there were some moments where I rolled my eyes and some moments where I couldn’t figure out what was trying to be said for the life of me, but other than that, it was well done. He kept Hannah a girl and Clay a boy, which is a massive feat. And he wrote with just enough humor to pull his readers from beneath the dark cloud of mental illness.
Jay Asher doesn’t go above and beyond with his settings, that’s something I read about him in an interview. He only gives you a few details because he doesn’t believe you need much more. I typically like more, but it worked for this book. The details he gave, however minute and simple, usually painted a much grander picture than a full paragraph of the sky’s coloring.
After your visits, I twisted my blinds shut every night. I locked out the stars and I never saw lightning again.
We took our place in the stream of students heading to the party–like joining a bunch of salmon heading upstream to mate.