13 reasons this book made me homicidal: a review of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Standard
Cover of "Thirteen Reasons Why"

Cover of Thirteen Reasons Why

I picked up Thirteen Reasons Why recently because it was on my list of “to read” and it had received much critical acclaim. Also it was one of two books I’d brought with me while traveling (not including the two I read on mom’s Kindle). I figured it might be okay, at least.

Allow me to give you 13 reasons I dislike it. And by “dislike”, I mean “hate psychotically.”

[TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE AND ASSAULT]

[SPOILERS]

1. Support of the “Well, she didn’t technically say ‘no’ so it’s not technically rape, right?” trope. The character who gets raped [I’m talking about Hannah; the other character who gets raped is tossed aside like a piece of garbage, her views never explored] is herself unsure if it was rape or no, which is very common because we all get taught that we’re dirty and naughty unless we shout no! in a loud voice — but we’re trained from an early age to never say no, because then the menfolk might get violent. That’s not what I have issue with; I have issue with the book itself seeming unsure regarding the conclusion. If the character who’d been raped could not unequivocally call it that, then another character who knew about it (there were three) should have been clear. Without that clarity it seems the author is saying he agrees that it’s “grey-area rape”. Anything short of enthusiastic consent is rape. Not saying no does not equal consent. The fact that the character was crying and clenching her teeth just to get through it should have alerted the others who knew about the situation that it was rape. Instead, we get vague hand-waving of “well maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t,” and this is wholly irresponsible of the author and holds up standards of misogyny and rape culture.

2. The structure of the book is highly manipulative. The reader is lead on a very deliberate route, leaving no leeway for interpretation. Asher has a conclusion that he wants you to reach and he makes sure you reach it. This leaves you feeling used and abused once the book is done.

3. Horrible characterization: there is no sympathy for Hannah Baker. She’s badly written. Hannah is portrayed as cold, calculating, selfish and childish. Suicidal people get portrayed as selfish all the time, so this is an old, tired, trope. Instead, you feel sympathy for Clay Jensen, who is a basically good guy [even thought he’s been raised steeped in patriarchal rape culture but that’s not really his fault and despite it he seems to turn out okay, at least] who is in love with Hannah. He had no idea how deeply disturbed she was, and feels she didn’t really give him a chance to help her. The added blow of giving him the tapes will give him guilt and anger towards her, which is unfair and childish: suicidal people usually don’t plan big manipulation games like this. We’re too lost in our own pain to even fucking care about how our deaths are going to affect others — and no, that’s not being selfish, that’s called having bodily autonomy. Also, if you can’t understand what it’s like to just want to die because you’re in so much pain, shut the fuck up about suicidal people being selfish. You have no idea.

The attitude of Hannah, the whole “I’ll just kill myself and THEN won’t they be sorry!” makes her look like a spoiled child, and not someone who’s truly in a lot of pain.

4. Following #3: White Whine. I mean, fuck, I’m not trying to belittle her problems, but Hannah is so badly written that all of her pain seems like so much white whine. I had things way worse, way earlier in life, and I know I had it good compared to other peoples’ lives. I tried to kill myself several times, but it was never to hurt others. It was to end my own pain.

And when I finally did find something good, something worth holding on to that eased the pain, I didn’t scream and freak out and push it away because, you know, shit had happened before and somehow having my original fantasies about love and romance ruined made it impossible for me to accept someone who actually loved me. What the fuck, Hannah?

Like, shit, kid, I get it, life in high school sucks, but yours could have been a lot worse, Miss Heterosexual White Cisgendered Middle-Class girl.

5. Mansplaining. It’s a story about misogyny and rape culture and how it manifests in high school, driving young girls to kill themselves. But it’s told through the eyes of a male character who’s listening to Hannah’s tapes by a male author who couldn’t write women characters effectively if it were beaten into him. For further remark, see #6.

6. The only reason this book received so much acclaim is because finally a white man is saying what marginalized folk have been saying for much longer. HAY GUISE, DID YOU KNOW? RAPE CULTURE. MISOGYNY. THEY EXIST. AND GIRLS ARE KILLING THEMSELVES BECAUSE OF IT.

Oh, thank the Goddesses! A white man finally noticed that we’re being raped and brutalized left right and center! Let’s watch him do a terrible job writing about it. Mansplaining: not just for trolls anymore!

I can tell you right now that if anyone other than a white man had written this book it would not have received half the acclaim it has. People do not believe things until white men say it’s the truth. I say I was raped twice, and I am questioned unless a white man corroborates my story. I say misogyny is everywhere, and I’m a hysterical feminist “looking to get angry about something” unless a white man says he sees it too. People of color, indigenous people, transgendered people, disabled and/or neuroatypical people, and queer folk have been saying for years that the police are corrupt and that police brutality is a matter of course in their daily lives. No one listens until Occupy happens, when suddenly white men are being treated this way too.

So, yeah. Asher had a chance to actually bring to light a serious issue, and he did it horribly. With friends like these….

7. Dual narratives is confusing, dizzying, and manipulative. It is falsely compelling: the intense structure made you feel as if the book was compelling, but the characterization was so bad that by the end of the book I wanted Hannah and everyone else in her small town to die.

8. The message is Anvillicious. Anvils everywhere. Falling from the sky. Especially as the result of Hannah’s probably-false suicide and tapes is to force Clay to insert himself into Skye’s life, regardless her wishes, because may be suicidal. (See #9 for elaboration.)

We should all care enough about our fellow human to ease their pain, even if just for a while. That does not mean we should see it as our personal crusade to save people from suicide. We need to respect bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy includes the right to choose how you will die, if possible.

We need to stop phrasing it as “Be nice. You never know who may be considering SUICIDE,” and start phrasing it as “Be kind, because we all deserve compassion and unconditional love.”

Also: listen to people when they say they’ve been raped or assaulted. Believe them. Realize what that means. (Ie, YES MEANS YES.) Stop the bros before hos policy that protects rapists like Bryce Walker. The “jokes” of the Who’s Hot/Who’s Not list, or Justin’s rumors about Hannah letting people think they own her — they all support rape culture.

And Asher’s portrayal of Hannah as completely unsympathetic with Clay being the protagonist voicing the “boys will be boys” sentiment and even a “you knew what you were getting into” trope enforces the idea that it’s “not a big deal”.

Irresponsible. Completely irresponsible.

9. White knight syndrome. Wow, really loving your portrayal of every single woman in the school needing a big strong man to save them. SO FUCKING ORIGINAL.

10. Hannah faked her own death. Or didn’t succeed and was too embarrassed to show her face at school afterwards. She planned enough to record the blame-game tapes, but not enough to figure out exactly how she would kill herself or to have a back-up plan if the first time didn’t work — when she intended to do it the next day. With perfect timing, as Tony saw her in 3rd period and she was “dead” by mid-afternoon.

Then she had no funeral and her parents left town.

I think she faked her own death. And sent those tapes around to prove a point. Through manipulation. Making her…a horrible human being.

11. Her treatment of Mr. Porter. Look, Hannah, if you want to exercise your bodily autonomy, off yourself, fine. But don’t bring down Mr. Porter with you, whose only crime was not being able to decipher your totally cryptic replies. The man tried, for fuck’s sake! You gave him nothing. And then you create these tapes wherein you lay most, if not all, of the blame at his feet for not being able to help you.

Hannah showed more compassion for her rapist, her assaulters, than she did to poor Mr. Porter. Mr. Porter was already close to suicide when he realized that he’d failed to help his student. How much do you want to bet her tapes send him over the edge?

How is that, in any sense, a simple expression of bodily autonomy?

Especially when it’s doubtful she killed herself at all.

12. No clear character motivation beyond “I’m an emo white girl who can’t get perspective waaaaaah”. I mean, her torments were real, if somewhat tame to my old, cynical eyes, yet her reaction to Clay kissing her was completely ridiculous, lacking in clear motivation. Is she supposed to be a strong female character? Is she supposed to be a role model?

Gods, I hope not. She’s worse than Bella Swan.

13. On page 9, Hannah’s recorded voice instructs her listeners to listen to all the tapes and then rewind them when they’re done before mailing them off. When she doesn’t even know how tapes work why should I trust that she figured out how to effectively kill herself?

On the plus side, the spelling, grammar, and punctuation were good.

However, I can’t recommend this book to anyone. It was horrible, and there are much better ways to get the same message. Actually, I could be wrong, as I’m not even sure what the message IS. The anvil hit me so hard I have a concussion.

Final verdict: waste of a tree’s life. If you must subject yourself to this mound of tripe, buy the ebook or go to the library.

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “13 reasons this book made me homicidal: a review of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

  1. This is why I rarely foray outside of my comfortable little box.

    As someone who has not read this book, let me wade into the ‘not knowing’ if it was rape topic: I didn’t know. I had to ask MY BOYFRIEND OF THE TIME. And why is that? That would be because I grew up in a culture where that wasn’t talked about. I grew up in a culture where rape was rare, never perpetrated by someone you knew, and happened in a black fucking alley on your way to the fucking library.

    What’s worse about MY “grey area rape” (good phrase!) was that it was SO grey area that twelve fucking jurors didn’t find the shit guilty. Not only did I have to deal with the fall out from being sixteen, having been raped, not knowing it was rape, accusing an ex-football player, accusing a black man, and being universally considered a lying, attention-seeking whore… I also got to deal with a jury calling me a fucking liar.

    So off-topic but it came spewing out. XD

    Anyway, as I said, this is why I stick to what I read almost exclusively. Whenever I think about something new, I get smacked in the phase with some asshole who doesn’t know what the hell they’re going on about.

    Quick aside: have you ever read Go Ask Alice? I think that’s what it’s called… it was written by ‘anonymous’ and was critically acclaimed some years back. Apparently, just as shitty and in need of a ttear-down of Katje proportions.

    Like

    • Katje

      Oh my gods. First of all, *hugs*. Thank you for having the courage to share your story on my blog.

      Second, I’m really glad I reviewed this book, then. Because I had no idea that there would be so much rape and assault in it, and I’m just glad it was so badly written that it didn’t trigger me. However, it may trigger others, and I think there need to be warnings out there.

      My ‘grey-area’ rapes happened over ten years apart (and yeah, I’m 25, so…) and both times I wasn’t sure myself what had happened. Because, I too, was raised in a culture that tells me coercion isn’t rape. I’ve never come out and directly named the people who did it — not publicly. I’ve told some friends. The first rape took me 10 years to realize the truth of — and my boyfriend at the time was also the one who had to inform me what I’d been through.

      This is what pisses me off about this book. People like you and me had to ask someone else if what we went through was rape, because we’ve been taught for so long that it wasn’t. Hannah goes through the same thing and neither Clay nor Mr. Porter help her realize what it was, nor does the author make it clear it was rape. He lets it stay in ‘grey-area’. The whole thing is irresponsible.

      I have not read Go Ask Alice, but I’ll put it on my list of things to read.

      Like

      • You’ll likely want to supplement your reading of Go Ask Alice with info about its (suspicious) back history – its Wikipedia article is a pretty fair summary.

        More generally – I can completely get “not sure” as a possibility, because I’ve got any number of “compromised consent” incidents in my background that I’m not always sure if “rape” is the right word for. (I should write a blog post – and in fact, that’s how I got here; “consent” somehow became my blogreading theme of the week, and I’ve been collecting links, with future writing of my own as one of the expected results. Usually I just read I&I – so much Internet to read, so little time.) But from your review, I have a strong feeling that the uncertainty in this book would not ring true to my experiences of uncertainty – I suspect it’d be some dude’s uninformed (or informed only by what rape culture itself says about the matter) imagining of what it might be like.

        Sunflower

        Like

      • Katje

        *But from your review, I have a strong feeling that the uncertainty in this book would not ring true to my experiences of uncertainty – I suspect it’d be some dude’s uninformed (or informed only by what rape culture itself says about the matter) imagining of what it might be like.*

        Exactly this. That was the exact feeling I got from the book. You are always so coherent with what I want to say. (And you’re welcome to continue your residence in my brain. ;))

        The book overall made me feel betrayed. A man chose to write about rape and did it badly, coming from a place of privilege, and it was obvious that he’d never actually experienced what the character had. It was a slap in the face to survivors.

        Like

  2. Nichelle

    Bitch Stfu ! It’s A Good Book ! I Don’t See You Writing It! Stupid . Nobody Cares About Your Opionion . He Got 4 Stars & You Have ZERO

    Like

    • Katje

      1. Oh, hey, you got my name right — though next time you may want to try saying the full thing: Queen Bitch.
      2. I will never ever shut the fuck up.
      3. I wrote a better book, and am working on the sequel, which is also better than 13 Reasons Why. Just my opinion, which I get to post on my blog, where people who care can read it. Amazing how the internet works.
      4. Said book has 5 stars, actually. As do many of my blog posts. So. There’s that.

      But hey, don’t take my word for it — why don’t you read it yourself? It’s on Kindle. Free all day today (the 19th).

      I wish you all the best in your continued trolling endeavors.

      Like

Comments are closed.