I don’t remember finishing a book and being this angry. ‘13 Reasons Why’ shouldn’t exist. But it does. And that makes me sad and mad. Jay Asher has written about an important issue—suicide—in the most insensitive and ridiculous manner ever.
Before 13 Reasons Why, Asher apparently only wrote humorous books. He clearly lacks the flair and the maturity to write on serious issues—I doubt his humor is any better, going by his sensibilities as evident in 13 Reasons Why.
The book got some really bad reviews—from BookTubers and reviewers I follow—but I still picked it up thinking it couldn’t be that terrible. I started it with an open mind, prepared to contest those who said the book glamorized suicide, or belittled a serious mental health problem. At most I thought Asher must have gotten some details wrong and readers and critics were being much too harsh on him.
But no. The book is awful.
Okay, I’m going to put my anger aside and try to be reasonable here as I calmly present my case as to why 13 Reasons Why belongs in the dumpster.
First, the very premise is flawed. Hannah Baker, a high school student, decides to commit suicide. Before taking the pills to end her life she records a series of audiotapes holding a few people accountable for her actions. The people she ‘blames’ for her not wanting to live anymore are students like her with their own problems. Why, if at all, Hannah’s problems are more important than the girl sitting next to her in class is not something Asher gives any thought to, thus making Hannah seem shallow and selfish.
Next, Hannah mails the tapes she makes to the first person on it with instructions to mail them to the person who follows the receivers’ name on the tape when he or she is done listening. And they can’t destroy the tapes because someone has the second set and they will be made public if the chain is broken. This just seems demented—like Hannah is spiteful and seeking revenge, like she doesn’t want people to live because she decided she wouldn’t.
Also, Hannah talking about what made her feel bad are everyday problems of a regular teenager. Besides rumors affecting people the way rumors can, nothing anyone did warrants any blame. If someone doesn’t respond to you the way you want them to, does that make him bad? And what’s with the narrative that bullying leads to suicide? It’s never that simple.
The ending of the tape—or Hannah’s story—is also problematic. Spoiler alert: Hannah goes to her guidance counselor as a last resort before committing suicide. He seems to have a genuine interest in her problems and wants to help her work it out. But something in her snaps and she bursts out of his office, despite him repeatedly asking her to wait. Hannah, running down the hallway of the school, looks back at the office door and when it stays shut and the counselor isn’t rushing after her, decides that she is done with life. Every scene seems superficial and stupid—and you can’t afford to do that when you have taken up a grave topic like suicide.
13 Reasons Why could have been a positive message about the importance of treating other people with kindness and realizing how your actions can affect others. What it is instead, owing to fickle writing and horrible character development, is a bitter suicide note where you feel no empathy for the victim.