(Review of ’13 Reasons Why’
A novel by Jay Asher
First published in 2007
Review written by Sidharth Vardhan in Novermber 12, 2016)
“You don’t need to watch out for me, Clay.”
But I did, Hannah. And I wanted to. I could have helped you. But when I tried, you pushed me away.
I can almost hear Hannah’s voice speaking my next thought for me. “Then why didn’t you try harder?”
And that’s why you can never understand women!
This is one of few books I have read because of its negative (Goodreads) reviews. Some reviewers say that it glorifies suicide, now I’m an anarchist, and I simply have to read any book that promote such out-of-box ideas. I was disappointed. It does nothing of kind. There is a great number of dramatic moments and other quirks that you might expect from a book written for young adults and there are a number of childish characters just as you expect teenagers to be, but nothing glorifying suicide.
Still it is worth the read and the reviews are worth reading too. A lot of reviewers (including this one) seem to be trying to review the idea of suicide rather than book itself. Some have this whole ‘she should have been stronger’ thing – I have a problem with that ‘should’. Does that mean she deserved what she got because she was weak? Is being weak such a crime?
Then, there are people who think she didn’t have enough reason to kill herself. What is sufficient reason? Do I have sufficient reason if I get paralyzed throughout the body and am that way for decades? I’m sure a lot of people will think even that is not a sufficient reason. Those are the kind of people who make governments though, that is why Euthanasia is illegal in most countries. They always think that people should suffer what they themselves never have to suffer. What is sufficient reason is a question which is subjective – differing not only from person to person but also from time to time for same person. And I think the opinion that matters is that of the person whose life it is. Isn’t it?
I think importance and preference we give to life means it can be put together with other such things – love, glory, honor, power, popularity, motherhood etc. They are all awesome at times but, they are often over-rated, they aren’t always worth the trouble. Sex, on the other hand, is worth all the trouble.
There are people who will give instances of other people who have worst sufferings and yet survived. Guess what? Different people are differently sensitive and it is not their fault, it is all hormonal – no one has control over Serotonin production in their body and so no one deserves credit for maintaining or blame for not being able to maintain it. Seriously get some perspective!
Now if you are wondering what Serotonin is – it is happiness hormone which maintains blood balance and lack of which causes depression. See you didn’t even know that!
To be honest, I believe a lot of people who are disgusted at sensitiveness are so, because they had built disgust as a shield to protect their own self from being sensitive. Because it is supposed to be a requirement to survive in this world.
As for Hannah, if you ask me she had more than enough reasons. I have seen people kill themselves for far les than that.
The last group are at least sympathetic to Hannah and so are likable, but they seem to be suffering from a fallacy – they think that they can understand Hannah just because they have been suicidal too. Not all suicides are same, or suffers in the same way. What they may feel or think is not same either, even if we take very broad reasons they are very different – some are simply feeling tired, others look at the world and think they can’t live in it because of one reason or other, still, others just don’t want to suffer anymore. To think every suicide is same is like saying everyone who can dress like a clown is as good as Heath Ledger.
And there are always reasons to kill oneself. Those who say suicide is an easy choice are right. At some point in one’s life, reasons to kill oneself become readily available – it is for living that we need to find reasons. The negative thoughts are like a storm, they don’t need your permission to blow you away. Our only chance is of holding on to things – family, Children, pets, values, anything; and if we are lucky, being held back. Hannah ran out of reasons – bad school, no friends or pets, problems in the family.
Now imagine yourself in just in such a world where people must hold on to each other to avoid being torn away by storms and suddenly you realize you are losing your grip, what do you do next? You try to get hold of things again, failing which you cry aloud, won’t you? Trying to get the attention of others, so that some of them may take hold of you and help you get your grip back. So tell me, how come we still use ‘trying to get attention’ as something negative in case of depressed people? Isn’t it the right thing for them to do, exactly the thing that should be encouraged? The mistake would be if they go out and just kill themselves. Hannah did repeatedly tried to get her grip again and failing to do so, called attention to others. It didn’t work out.
Anyways, I don’t think this book is written for depressed people. Depressed people might react positively or negatively to this book depending on their condition. No, it is for everyone, especially for others – it is about our social responsibility to each other. Suicide is always, at least, partially a social failure. Because society too has failed to hold the person back.
And where It comes to kids or teenagers, it is an entirely social failure. Because they are the responsibility of society at large, they can’t look after themselves.
Most importantly, this is a kind of book that tells teenagers that there are other teenagers around them who are similarly discovering realities of the world and are sensitive to their actions – and so they have a responsibility towards each- other. Ideally, a positive one to try to take care of others, but failing that at least a negative to see their actions don’t hurt their age-mates. It is a powerful theme not something we normally see in literary fiction. Finally,a golden opportunity to quote Waiting for Godot:
“Vladimir: Did I ever leave you?
Estragon: You let me go.”