Friday, May 27, 2011

Thirteen Reasons Why OR A Dark Week in YA Lit., Part II

Gifted Teen Commits Suicide, Tortures Peers From Beyond The Grave.

That's the headline, and that's the premise of Jay Asher's novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, as many of you probably know:

Hannah Baker kills herself, but creates a set of audiotapes beforehand detailing how thirteen different people contributed to her death.  Then she blackmails the people on the tapes into sending the set along to the rest of the incriminated group by duplicating the set and leaving it with an anonymous "watcher" tasked with ensuring all Hannah's intended listeners indeed pass the tapes along.  If the chain breaks, the watcher will release the tapes to the public.

A rather creepy premise indeed but, like Stolen (reviewed here earlier this week), one that holds a distinct appeal to teens.  Thirteen Reasons Why sizzled like wildfire through the ranks of young women nationwide last year, and I watched it fly from hand to hand in my own school, so I can verify its popularity. 

And like Stolen, it plays on the misapprehensions and emotional confusion so prominent in teenage life.  But unlike Stolen, this novel realistically and grippingly explores the cruelties that teens deal out to each other on a regular basis and serves as a clear cautionary tale for all those who trade on rumor-mongering and bullying.  Its heroine, unlike Gemma in Stolen, is reasonably self-aware and understands her own participation in her demise, though she feels powerless to control her emotions or to stop her downward spiral into depression, isolation, and death.

Despite the harrowing subject matter, I found this to be a worthwhile listening experience, both in substance and in form.  The story here is tautly woven and uncomfortably addictive.  And the audio CDs I listened to featured two engaging actors (Debra Wiseman and Joel Johnstone), perfectly cast as the dual protagonists Hannah herself and Clay, the entirely decent young man who's listening to the tapes and waiting for the moment when she reveals what he has done to deserve inclusion on her list.

If you're going to try Thirteen Reasons Why - and if you're a parent, friend, or mentor of young teens, I suggest you do - the audio version is well worth your time. 

But do be prepared:  This is a trying experience, even though it's quite well paced and well done in every respect.  Even if we're not on the list, we feel the same horror, frustration, and powerlessness that Hannah's listeners do, all thirteen steps of the way.


p.s.  Is anyone else having trouble viewing the Google 'Followers' app. in Explorer?  If so, are they working on it at Blogger or is there a fix?


Jenna (Literature and a Lens) said...

Great review! I thought this book was a very thought provoking look at a serious issue facing young people. Asher created a good action/reaction pacing, and I think Hannah's character was real and genuine. Hopefully this book will open up some much needed dialog that could positively affect young adults today.

Laurie said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jenna. I agree with you on all your commentary as well. And yes: my action for this book is to create a new blog focused entirely on book recs for parents and mid-teens, because that's a challenging age group - there's just such a wide range of reading- and maturity- levels that it's hard for parents, teachers, and friends to recommend just-the-right book...
My idea is that the blog could be written by a panel of discerning readers who offer enough background about well-written YA and adult books, that a parent-child pair could find their next great read.
Let's talk!

Laura @ Bunny Tales said...

Wow, this wasn't even on my radar but it certainly is now. It sounds like something that would appeal to my youngest and despite the fact she's 16, it sounds like I should be familiar with it first.

Thanks for the review!


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