‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher

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My heart feels heavy. I believe I knew what to expect from Thirteen Reasons Why, and I think that it fulfilled all those expectations, in terms of both how it was written and of the content.

I had a primary reason for reading it, and for many parents, I suspect it’s the same. Is this appropriate reading matter for my young teens? I wouldn’t have bought it for them, in the same way that I wouldn’t have let them watch the Netflix series, however, a couple of years ago (when my daughter was only 11), she came home with a bundle of books she had borrowed, on a long-term basis, from her friend of the same age. She then, on her lift to school, had been talking about the books she had recently acquired with her friend in the car. I then got a call from her friend’s mum, who had taken her to school, to warn me not to let her read this one as, in her view, it was extremely harmful subject matter.

I then went to get the book, and removed it to the downstairs bookcases, and popped it behind some other books (all my shelves are double stacked – it isn’t an exaggeration to have named my blog thus) and waited to see if she would ask me about it, and she never has, up to press.

It has taken me over a year to get around to picking it up, and the (other) reason I did, was because my Facebook reading group (The Fiction Café – book club) has set several reading challenges for the year; the first of which, was to read a book about mental health. Thirteen Reasons Why was my choice for this, while it doubled up as the opportunity to see whether I felt that it was appropriate for my now 13-year-old daughter, or my 12-year-old son.

They have, since they were about 11, brought home from school, books which I was surprised that the librarian would let them borrow, as I considered them a few years too old for them. Then I thought that maybe, I was just being prudish or old-fashioned – surely, nooooo!! Generally, they loved and raced through the books they borrowed, and I kept my opinions to myself. After all, I hadn’t actually read them.

However, this is one that I am going to continue to hold back and there are reasons for this, for me personally. The first is that I don’t believe that it would be beneficial for their mental health. I have other books they can read. Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, and Notes on a Nervous Planet are far superior, I think. And I would let my children read them any time, because they are essentially hopeful and inspiring, whilst being completely honest about how emotions can hurt very badly.

Secondly, I had poor mental health as a teenager and into young adulthood. I won’t go into it, but I don’t think reading this would have worked well for me. I think it would have made me feel worse. I can’t be sure of course, as those days are (mostly) a long time ago and I could well just be thinking as ‘adult me’. If it had been there, I would have read it though, and so I’m glad it wasn’t.

Apologies, as I know this has read less like a book review than I would have liked. If the blurb interests you, read it, as you won’t be disappointed in the writing or the emotional way that the story progresses, and the ending is good. It flows well, and I had finished it in a day.

Particularly if you can see it less as a blame game inflicted on other people, and more as the internalised and flawed reasoning of a young person who has suffered the perfect storm of events and feelings that has led to her suicide, and this has been written as an externalised expression of it. Also, to view it as the reasons that we should be kinder to each other.

My view is, that there is only one character in this book who does dreadful things, and I’m not talking about Hannah Baker, so the other trigger warnings, beside suicide, are bullying, sexual harassment and rape.

Samaritans (UK), tel: 116123
SANEline (UK), tel: 0300 304 7000
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA), tel: 1-800-273-8255
‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ Matt Haig
‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ Matt Haig

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