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The International Writers Magazine - Our 21st Year: Review Archive

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
ISBN: 978-0-141-32829-4
Penguin Books
Nina Aumaitre Review

Teen fiction, it felt like forever since I had let my fingers run along the seams of the books crowding that section. I mean what’s on the buffet for teens now days?

After letting my fingers zigzag some more among the glittery and stylised fonts I finally I settled for ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher. His novel, the story of an American high school boy, Clay Jensen, who has one final rendezvous with his former class mate Hannah Baker; one beyond the grave but also beyond time. The lines of the past and the present blur after he finds a parcel on his door step. This parcel has no return address but instead, bundled inside, his crush’s 13 reasons for ending her life; all meticulously recorded on audio tapes. And guess what, this poison parcel is only destined to the people linked to her tragic story. So what was his role in her death?

That question is what keeps you turning those pages. But also the feeling of being an archaeologist or a detective, slowly lifting the dust and mysteries as every new chapter unfolds, and finally the topic of suicide; quite daring for a first release.

So I’ll come right to the crunch: the intrigue is there, especially when Hannah Baker open’s up her first tape with the following introduction: "I’m not saying which tape brings you into the story. But fear not, If you’ve received this lovely little box, your name will pop up... I promise. Now why would a dead girl lie? Hey! That sounds like a joke. Why would a dead girl lie? Answer: Because she can’t stand up."

A great hook that made me wince, but most of all it made me want to know more about her character. Sadly it wasn’t long before I found myself faced once again with America’s top three high school stereotypes: reputation, cheerleaders and jocks. As the scenario becomes mined with stiff and nearly forced dialogue i started to lose sympathy for the leading lady. Her reasons soon start sounding too manufactured for the plot. In my eyes this story only proved to scrapes the surface of this controversial topic, as if the author has picked up a stone and he is describing it, when what I really want him to do is to crack it open. After a while the intrigue fades and you can’t wait to get to the end of the 7 tapes, and when it ends you are left feeling like there was no final sprint!

Though the structure of the novel was interesting, Hannah’s story (all in an audio format), intercut and filled in by Clay’s view on the events, his inability to read the signs, her inability to truly reach out, it stays only as a structure to a story which lacks in depth and resonance. This is a book about how it is so easy to misunderstand others, or to miscalculate how much of an impact we can have on them. A story about awareness, trying to sensitise teens to this issue, which gnaws away quietly at the core of society. This story has received many awards and inspired teens to make it into a play and now a TV series. But personally all I feel like adding is: a book I have read, and will soon forget.
© Nina Aumaitre Nov 2009

The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner
Nina Aumaitre review

France 1793, blood is running in rivulets down the streets as heads fall severed from bodies like petals of sickle roses

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