This book is many things. Moving. Disturbing. Unsettling. Occasionally funny in ways that shouldn't be. None of these descriptions touch upon what this book really is. I couldn't even put it all out here for you in a simple review. You just have to experience it.
The book opens on an obvious tragedy. The reader isn't made aware at first, but the tone and mood are ominous and on page 3 the narrator, a high school boy named Clay, admits that he wishes he could collapse. Tape recordings are mentioned and it is implied that the message of the tapes is the reason our narrator is an emotional mess. It isn't until the next chapter, which takes us back to the moment Clay first gets the tapes, that we begin our journey to find out why.
Again, I've already said you need to experience this book. I'm not going to reveal the content of the tapes here because it is the process of discovering Hannah Baker's story that makes this book worth reading. I will tell you the basics and nothing more. Hannah killed herself. No one knows why. No one, that is, until she sends a package with no return address to the first person on her list. Inside the package are the tapes I've told you about earlier. These tapes contain thirteen stories. Each story helps shed light on the true pain and hidden disturbance that Hannah experienced every day. Hannah's stories are exposed to both the reader and Clay at the same time, making his pain the reader's pain. This is a visceral account of how rumors and unkind boys can destroy an already fragile girl and the drastic measures she took to ensure that those problems never hurt her again.
My reaction to this book is multi-faceted and something I still can't articulate, even though I read it back in November. On the one hand, it alerts readers to the vicious cycle of rumors and exactly why labeling people based on what one hears is absurd. This definitely touched me on a personal level because my high school experience was very similar to Hannah (minus actually committing suicide, obviously). My penchant for tight clothes because they felt most comfortable and my slender, yet curvy figure attracted the wrong attention and it was years before I figured out why. Despite being prudish in high school, I was labeled all kinds of unappealing names I still don't wish to think about. This book is perfect for many high school girls for that reason. To know they are not alone. Their pain is real and valid, but at the same time, there has got to be a better way of dealing with it than the way Hannah did.
The other side of this is that it almost glorifies suicide. Yes, the reader is definitely left with Clay's pain more than Hannah's and most would be able to conclude that suicide is not even an option, let alone an answer. Most. My fear with this book is I know how I would have reacted in high school and it isn't pretty. For the reasons mentioned previously amonst many more, I was ridiculously depressed and might have taken away a different message than the one I'm offering to you today. I guess what I'm trying to say is, be careful about how you recommend this book and to whom.
First line of the book:
"Sir?" she repeats. "How soon do you want to get it there?"