Saturday, September 18, 2010

Books: Honesty

I'm going to tell you a secret.  One that's going to make my agent and editors cringe a little.  You ready?

I hated 13 Reasons Why.

Ouch, right?  But before the hate e-mail starts pouring in, let me explain something.  I also really loved 13 Reasons Why.  When I finished the book, I wanted to throw it against the wall.  Hard.  I didn't because the copy I had was borrowed (I own my own throwable copy now) but I wanted to.

It took me a long time to figure out what my issue was.  See, I loved the writing.  Jay Asher is a brilliant story-teller.  I was able to imagine every bit of that story.  As Clay walked from place to place listening to those tapes, my freaking heart broke.  And yet I hated the novel with a fiery passion usually reserved for America's Next Top Model.

The truth though, wasn't that I hated the book.  It was that I hated Hannah.  I hated how she manipulated the people around her.  How she didn't come right out to her teacher and beg him to stop her from killing herself.  How she made Clay go through the emotional torture of wondering what part he played in her suicide before letting him off the hook.  I felt it was unnecessarily cruel.  And I hated her for it.

I wanted Hannah to take some responsibility for her own actions.  To realize that she played a part in her own tragedy.  And that's where I got tripped up.  I confused what I wanted with what the story was offering.  The story hit home for me on a very personal level.  But Hannah was already dead.  She was never going to be able to understand just how cruel her tapes were.  Sure, people might learn some lessons, but I think she was still unjustifiably mean.  And that was the character.  People who attempt suicide often don't think about the consequences their actions will have on the people they leave behind. So what Hannah did was 100% in character.

When we read books, especially ones we don't like, we sometimes have to ask ourselves if the author achieved what they'd intended.  I often worried while writing Deathday, that people would find Ollie's frequent references to sex annoying.  And some have.  But I made a promise to myself to stay true to who he was.  My goal was to show the mind of a 15 y/o boy facing death in all his horny glory.  Whether I succeeded is up to you all, but there it is.  And when I sat down to read 13 Reasons Why for the second time, I was forced to ask myself, not whether I agreed with Hannah's actions, but if Jay Asher achieved out what he set out to accomplish.  The answer is definitely yes.

I still kind of hate it though.  But it's one of the best books I've ever hated.  Hands down.


  1. I totally agree with you. I was upset with Hannah's actions all around, but I did feel like Jay accomplished what he set out to do. :-)

  2. Agreed. I think this has to be kept in mind with Mockingjay (and other series books), too. People often get expectations built up for what they want to happen and judge books on whether or not they meet those expectations rather than on the merit of the story and character authenticity.

    Also, 13 Reasons Why was probably THE book that got me reading YA as an adult. I didn't even read YA as a teen, but Jay Asher showed me what I was missing out on :)

  3. I think any time an author is able to pen a book that raises our emotional reservoir, they've succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Why? Take for example your review here. You talk about Hannah and her actions as if she were more than a character created from someone's mind.

    Jay managed to make you feel something for this fictional character, whether it be hate, compassion, or disgust.

    At the end of the day...I hope to achieve that level of writing.

    As for suicide, it is a selfish act in itself (I know from experience). I thought Hannah's actions took her selfishness to the next level. (Hugs)Indigo

  4. Mindi- 100% I think he could have taken the easy way out and it would have made for a less honest book. I have crazy respect for the man.

    Melanie - I totally agree about Mockingjay. I think people got so caught up in what they wanted to happen that they failed to see that the events of that book followed logically from what came before.

    Indigo - Spot on. And I hope to achieve that level of writing one day too!

  5. I haven't read 13 Reasons Why, but I think anytime a book can raise those types of emotions in people, whether they love it or hate it, then that book has achieved something incredible. And that's a good thing.

  6. This book sounds kind of manipulative and creepy (in this age where everyone airs their dirty laundry for all to see), but now I'm curious to read it.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.