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Thirteen Reasons Why, is the first novel by a new author, Jay Asher.  It deals with teenage suicide, but in a very different way to Kite Spirit by Sita Brahmachari, which I reviewed here.

This book has a novel premise. It starts with the protagonist, Clay Jensen, receiving a package in the post.  It is a collection of audio tapes made by his friend Hannah Baker. In them, Hannah lists the thirteen reasons, of the title, that she has chosen to take her own life.  By the time Clay receives them, she has been dead for some weeks.  All he can do is listen.

Clay has loved Hannah for years.  She loved him back. The only time they were together in a romantic way, was at a party a few weeks before Hannah died, in which neither of them could articulate their feelings.  Their awkward parting and Hannah’s subsequent death is agonisingly painful for Clay to bear.

The novel is a transcript of the tapes, interwoven with Clay’s feelings as he listens to them. His memories, his dawning of understanding of what Hannah has been going through, and his emotional turmoil as he pieces together the story of her life as she experiences it.

The book is pretty traumatic to read. It pulls no punches, and is at times brutally cruel, both because of what Hannah says and does, and what is said and done to her.  It is most definitely a book for teenagers. I would recommend it to teens of about thirteen and older. It contains reasonably graphic sexual content, violence and some deeply upsetting emotional scenes.

It is suitable for both boys and girls. Although Hannah’s is the dominant voice, and it is her experiences we focus on, Clay is also an important part of the book, and his thoughts and feelings provide a crucial counterpoint and understanding of what is happening throughout.

It is an achingly sad book, because of the subject matter, but also because I found myself, as I read on and learned of Hannah’s reasons for killing herself, thinking that the reasons were, for the most part, rather trivial (with a few exceptions), and could have been managed/healed had she just had someone to talk to.  It really does exemplify a) how hard some teenagers have it in terms of their inability to deal with the ups and downs of a pretty miserable time of life and b) how much of a waste ending your life for reasons like this really is.

The book is pretty bleak, and apart from a tiny spark of hope right at the end, is pretty relentless in tone.