I recently read Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. You can guess from the title of this post how I felt about it.
This is a list of my reasons why. . .
1. Hannah is not special
Why am I supposed to care about Hannah so much? She’s fictional! No one really died here. Who is Hannah? What does she think about? dream about? What does she want? etc.
This goes back to the three basic rules of writing:
- What do they want?
- Why can’t they get it?
- Why do I care?
You can’t ignore these rules just because your character killed herself in the end. 1/2 way through the book I literally thought Hannah faked her death for some reason. That at least would have made her interesting.
2. Hannah is a horrible person
While at a party, Hannah sees a mean girl get passed out drunk. Her date takes her into a room to let her sleep it off. Hannah hides in the closet while another guy comes in the room and rapes the girl.
Hannah does nothing.
NOTHING! WTF Hannah, because the girl dissed you once, you let her get raped! and guess who Hannah blames for this? Just guess. The rapist? A little bit. Herself for not stopping it? No, that would be silly. This little b*&ch blames the first guy because he didn’t guard the door!
You watched a girl get raped and you have the gall to blame the guy for not guarding the door?! And I’m supposed to feel bad for you because there is a nasty rumor going around school?!
That was the moment I just couldn’t deal with Hannah anymore. Up until that moment, I thought that maybe I just wasn’t remembering all the high school drama enough. Maybe it was worse than what I remembered ( although that would be hard to believe) but no, Hannah is a horrible person, way worse than anyone on her stupid little list.
Here’s the kicker: There is no indication that Hannah told the girl what happened before sending her these tapes, which means this poor girl may have discovered that she was raped by an audiotape! and the only witness who could Id the rapist to the cops is dead!
but apparently, she deserved it for being mean to you, huh Hannah?
3. The Tapes
The whole set up for this novel is silly to me. Hannah’s suicide note is 13 tapes that she wants 13 people to circulate among themselves. and they all do, but why? Not ONE of them thought of contacting her family, or since she mentions witnessing crimes, the police!
Hannah says she killed herself because no one cared about her enough. . . if you think no one cares, why would you think someone cares about your note?
It seems more like the kind of thing someone does as a cry for help, not a suicide note. Hannah is so sure that every one of the thirteen people will circulate the tapes, but why?
There’s some weird “blackmail” thing about the second set of tapes, but how does Hannah know that the person with the other tapes will follow through on the “blackmail.”
It’s like Hannah wants to change things and set right some wrongs, but if she thinks they can change, why would she lose hope and kill herself?
4. Learned Helplessness
I’ve worked in Special Education. I’ve seen kids who are very smart, convince themselves that they are stupid because they have a learning difficulty. They can get so frustrated that they give up on themselves. After all, if there’s an instructional assistant who is going to read the book to you when you have trouble, why bother even working on your reading skills?
This is what’s known as “learned helplessness” but I think it also exists in maturity. If people are always looking out for you, why learn independence? Hannah has this in spades! She could easily report incidence when she’s harassed, but she doesn’t. She just complains that no one will help her.
5. The Feminist Issue
As far as I could tell Hannah killed herself because guys are jerks. Now I don’t really call myself a feminist (WAY too much blaming “The Patriarchy” for all the world’s problems) and I don’t blame Disney for the choices that women often make prioritize family over career, as long as that’s her choice, no one should judge.
But this novel got under my skin. Apparently, Hannah killed herself because she couldn’t get a boyfriend who wasn’t all hands?!
Hannah’s entire self-definition is external, it’s all about how the boys in school see her. Now I know that teens often define themselves by how they look to other people, but apparently, Hannah only defined herself by how boys thought of her. This is just insulting!
What’s so sad is that this could have worked! You can tell a story about a guy losing the girl he loved. You put the focus on HER early on in the story make us root for their relationship and morn the loss. This can be done really well!
6. No character progression
Do to the novel’s setup Hannah is already contemplating suicide before the novel begins. Hannah has no ambition, no drive. She complains about what the others failed to do to help her, but Hannah does nothing to help herself. The reader needs to connect with Hannah and see her downward spiral. but we don’t, Hannah starts at rock bottom and stays there. She has no character change.
7. Support everywhere but in Hannah’s tiny little mind.
I thought that this was a story where a girl is bullied and kills herself. but that’s not what this is. Hannah has a bad reputation, and she is sexually harassed a few times, but she doesn’t do anything about it.
Hey genius, no one is going to think your “easy” if you make it clear that no one gets to treat you that way!
This is not a tragic story about a girl being let down by her support system, this is about a girl who refuses to use her support system, for some odd reason.
In college when a drunk jock tried to break into my dorm room, quite possibly to rape me or my roommate, campus security told us that it was “just part of the college experience.” My roommate and I looked at each other and told the campus security officer that if something like that ever happened again, we’d be sure to call the REAL cops.
He was mad, but we stayed safe because we were not going to take any of that c&@p.
That’s what you need to do Hannah!
8. Stand up for yourself!
Okay, I’m about to tell you a hard truth kiddies. This is something the adults in your life are trying to shield you from, but I sure wish I had known this back in high school:
In the real world, no one is going to protect you. You have to take care of yourself. and the one thing you can always control is this: “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
That’s the trick to growing up.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that schools teach kids about being active when they see bad situations, but I wished we taught you guys to stand up for yourselves, expectantly when no one else will.
I know (from first-hand experience) how hard it is to be bullied, but that’s not what this story is about. Hannah isn’t bullied. People misjudge her, and Hannah does nothing, absolutely nothing to fix it!
9. If you don’t want to be called a tease . . .
At one point in the story, Hannah goes on a date. The two are cuddling in a booth at a diner and he puts his hand on her thigh. Hannah wants him to stop.
What do you do in this situation?
A. say “No, stop that” in a firm but warm voice, and move your leg away so he knows you like the cuddling but not the rest.
B. stop his hand with your own and give him a look that says “Nice try, but not just yet”
C. break the cuddle and let him hold your hand after an apology
D. feel uncomfortable, whisper a meek little “no” while cuddling him closer
Hannah chooses D.
Humans communicate mostly through body language. So, Hannah, while you whispered “no” your body language said you liked it.
Let me be clear: Of course Hannah had every right to demand that he stop. but Hannah, you need to be consistent with your verbal and nonverbal communication. Your body language was drowning out your voice.
True to form, Hannah blames not just the guy, but the people at the diner for not coming to her rescue. She never blames herself for sending mixed signals.
Dating in high school is not rocket science Hannah!
Is your date all hands? Stop cuddling with him and tell him to stop. You want people to help you get a guy off you? Call out for help! He calls you a tease? Throw your milkshake on him and call him a pervert!
10. High School = center of the universe
In Hannah’s world if you’re unpopular in high school you just kill yourself. Do these teens really have nothing else going on in their lives? maybe I’m jaded having been homeschooled, but is school really that central to your life?
Look: High school sucks! yes, even for us homeschoolers, High school is a four-year-long purgatory you have to inured before your adult life can really begin. High school in the colonic of life, all the sh^t has to be purged for your system so that you can come out clean and ready to take on the world. You just have to endure it. because it’s only four years, only a tiny slice of your life. High school drama is not worth selling away the rest of your life.
11. No funeral?
Hannah’s parents had no funeral for her. . . That fact was why I thought Hannah had faked her death for a while. but no, her parents just didn’t hold a funeral. yeah, I think Hannah had problems WAY before anything that happened in this story. Yet we never hear anything about Hannah’s parents in her tapes.
No! I call bu!!s&*t, Hannah has MASSIVE issues with her parents that she can’t deal with, and she is shifting the blame and anger and hate onto other people who don’t deserve it.
12. Jake’s story, not Hannah’s
This story is really about Jake. How Jake is changed by Hannah’s story. That feels a little wrong to me. It seems like the focus should really be more on Hannah and what she’s going through. Not Jake hiding from his mom to listen to Hannah’s b!^*#ing.
I already mentioned how, as a non-practicing feminist this book was a little much even for me. This added to it. Not only are girls defined by how they relate to boys, but Hannah, who you would expect to be the main character, is defined by the fact the Jake never got the chance to kiss her.
Structuring it this way make it even harder to connect with Hannah. especially since as mentioned above, Hannah is a horrible person.
13. Suicide is not painless
This story tries to delve into the pain of suicide. but it falls short. I’ve dealt with depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts with those close to me. In all my experience the root problem is a sense of self-loathing. It’s an idea that there is something so “broken” so “wrong” with you that you are not worth getting help.
Everyone I know who has struggled with suicidal thoughts, started with self-harm. An attempt to release emotional pain through physical pain. Hannah never mentions this, not once. Not even a hint. She mentions getting a haircut, but not self-harm.
I know that not everyone’s depression is the same, but I don’t see Hannah’s struggle. There is a tremendous amount of pain that goes along with trying to kill yourself, and I just don’t see that with Hannah.