Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
On a purely superficial level, this book (and the current Netflix series) is highly entertaining. No one disputes that the topic of the book, suicide, is an important one that should be discussed. The disputes around this book center on how suicide is addressed, and I get that. Parents should take an active role if their children are reading this book or watching the series.
That said, one of the big criticisms is that the book doesn't address depression. I had some post-partum depression after my first child, and though I never wanted to hurt myself or others, one of the central feelings was that of being inept. After a lifetime of feeling confident based on specific achievements, I suddenly felt unworthy of so many things. One interesting thing about my depression though was that it coincided with concrete outside events: my father had passed away at the same time and I'd left work. So the story I told myself was that I wasn't depressed, because actual bad things had happened to me, and any bad feelings I felt about myself- I should feel based on the reality of the situation. I guess my point is that depression is not always so easy to separate from outside forces or intrinsic self-worth, and this is especially true for the person who is depressed. So the fact that Hannah doesn't understand or communicate her own depression isn't strange or wrong to me.
Additionally, years before in high school-- high school was the worst-- I was so upset by things that were occurring in my social life in school, that for about a week, I visibly cried everywhere I went. My parents saw me. Numerous teachers saw me. No one did anything to get me any kind of help. Even though I had my mind focused on leaving for college and not on ending my life, I was a walking red flag. Adults are often not equipped for the maelstrom of teen emotions and their ramifications.
So while it would have been good to understand the main character's depression a little better, I think the portrayal was still fairly realistic. The suicide of a young person doesn't actually make sense so it's a lot to expect the author to give sense to something that has none in real life. To the extent that Asher gave it some sense, I think it's his plea to be gentle with each other, protect each other, and reach out to each other. It's also a call for the adults who supervise teens and their shitty high school environments to step up and make those places livable and institute safety nets for teens that are flailing for help.
P.S. The biggest difference for me between the book and the Netflix series is that the Netflix series went into the lives of Hannah's antagonists as well. Those characters are mostly flat "bad guys" in the book, but the series humanizes those characters while still insisting that they bear responsibility for their actions.
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