As clichéd as it is to say, I do remember reading this back in high school, and really enjoyed the premise as well as the twists and turns given in Jay Asher’s iconic novel “Thirteen Reasons Why”.
From becoming #1 on the New York Times bestselling List for a while to becoming a Netflix Original series with Selena Gomez, Jay Asher’s novel has become a staple of young adult literature. Nobody can look in the teen section of a bookstore without finding “Thirteen Reasons Why” on the shelves. And after whole decade since being published and its Netflix series being praised, here is the “Thirteen Reasons Why” Deluxe Tenth Anniversary Edition, complete with the original ending Jay Asher almost went for in his debut book.
Two weeks after the death of a teenage girl named Hannah Baker, our protagonist—named Clay Jensen—returns home to find a mysterious package filled with cassette tapes. And to his shock, on them are audio recordings of the deceased Hannah Baker, who discusses thirteen people (one of whom happen to be our main character) whose actions are the reason for taking her life. Complete with a map, Clay follows her ghostly instructions across town and reveals bit by bit the tragic mistakes that caused Hannah Baker’s suicide.
To quote the book’s back cover: “You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret…is to press play.”
Asking now, does this book hold up after ten years, and has it changed much since my high school days? How does the alternate ending compare to the original the author almost went with? What can I talk about this book that everyone else hasn’t said? Well, for one: this isn’t a masterpiece as many claim it to be. Don’t get the wrong idea; “Thirteen Reasons Why” is a well-written book with a couple memorable characters, a narrative style unique to its own and a plot that does a wonderful job of showing the heavy themes of bullying, teenage bullying and self-esteem issues.
Going into Clay Jensen, he’s essentially the shy, dweeby high schooler who feels enormous guilt for not preventing his crush’s death. While his mysterious role in Hannah’s suicide isn’t as huge compared to the others on the list, you do feel sorry for him. He isn’t too complex, but a role in a story like this—where the focus is on Hannah’s journey to the inevitable moment is the sole focus—requires him to be simple so you can immediately connect to him.
Hannah Baker is a likeable girl based on the way she speaks in the tapes. You feel she could’ve gone to do amazing things, yet the rumor mill of high school and the actions of her peers shoved her over the edge. She’s quirky, creative and eccentric, but is also awkwardly naïve. In every way, you feel the heartfelt anguish she goes through.
The rest of the side characters, along with the ones who were responsible for Hannah’s misery, all range from identifiable to downright despicable. I can’t give much without revealing anything to people who haven’t read the story, but let’s just say that there are a couple of characters on the list you find deplorable, the kind of people you feel deserve a special place in Hell.
As writing style goes, Jay Asher’s has stood the test of time, and you can honestly read this in 2007 or 2017 and feel a connection. There’s not too many things to date this at all, and it provides its message of gossip and suicide better than other books.
Still. Why don’t we now talk about the elephant in the room then? As soon as it was revealed Jay Asher was including the original ending to the new edition, many rejoiced. The ending basically follows the current one, except for one difference: Hannah Baker is still alive. Yep, she survived her suicide.
And after reading the original ending, how does this change the way we see Jay Asher’s debut book? Well, in my opinion the author made the best choice of going for the current ending. I know some may disagree with me, but think about it: not only doesn’t it make sense over how literally no one figures out she’s alive (seriously, how does a small town go two weeks without learning a local girl who committed suicide was actually in a mental hospital?) , but it felt pointless to the tone of the story.
“Thirteen Reasons Why” is supposed to be a journey of how simple actions can affect a teenager into committing suicide. Most of the time it’s never one factor but many, and the way the book is written is both tragic and bittersweet in what could’ve been between our protagonist and Hannah. Clay is shown that what you do to others have consequences in life, that being a bystander is worse than actually being the bully, and suddenly revealing the tragedy is actually a plot twist defuses everything.
It’d be like finding out Rue from “The Hunger Games” didn’t die, or Mufasa in The Lion King never died, or Uncle Ben survived being shot, or >SPOILER< from the end of “Proxy” never died. Sure we wish they lived in their respective stories, but their deaths heavily impact what happens to the main characters, and to suddenly reveal that everything said and done was for nothing would’ve destroyed the message Jay Asher was trying to tell. Hell, the original ending would’ve destroyed the perfect ending that already exists. It closes all loose ends, and gives Clay a second chance at redeeming himself towards preventing another potential suicide.
Disregarding the original ending, this is a book I still enjoy once in a while. By the end of the tape, “Thirteen Reasons Why” is an excellently crafted novel that stands against the test of time. Whether it be ten years, twenty or more, Jay Asher’s debut book reminds everyone that sometimes those in need of help are the ones hiding in plain sight.
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