Friday, June 14, 2013


As a person who suffers from depression, severe depression at times, and has for my whole life, a book about a girl who killed herself is maybe not the ideal choice of reading material. But Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why is a powerful and insightful book that I devoured in a few days. 

Asher's debut novel is the story of Hannah, a teenage girl who is already dead when the story opens. She recently committed suicide. The novel follows Clay, a boy in Hannah's class who receives some cassette tapes in the mail. When he listens to them, he begins to hear Hannah herself speak of the reasons that caused her to take her own life. The thirteen reasons that moved Hannah slowly to her death. Thus ensues a kind of dance and conversation between Hannah on the tapes, and Clay listening to them. The result is a remarkable book.

It's an interesting suggestion. Suicide is clearly one person's desperate act. It is a last choice for a person who feels utterly alone and in such suffering that they can conceive of no other way to live, than to die. But this book reminds us that while suicide is a personal choice, we all influence each other. We all bump up against each other and cause hurts and wounds and are more than capable of inflicting great pain on each other in ways that we have no idea how others will respond to. And that's the thing.... A negative rumor might roll off one girl's back, while another girl, a girl with a tendency toward depression or other mental illness of some kind, might see it as a the ruin of her reputation and a cause for intense suffering in her life. 

The thing about this book that held true to me was that the reasons, the things that happen to Hannah that lead up to her death, each one taken separately are quite painful enough. Some are smaller than others, but when life keeps piling on the painful events, and you are a person predisposed to suffer from depression, all those small wounds end up swamping you, and you can't get out from underneath the pain. Which, I imagine, is what happened to Hannah.

Finally, Hannah brings us to her last reason (spoiler alert!), a meeting with her guidance counselor to seek advice and help. She reaches out to him, and like most depressed people, she underplays her suffering. But we, the readers, know she has suffered, because we just read a whole book of it! And we want this adult to see the signs, to hear her, to validate her suffering and help her. But, instead, he casually suggests she get over it and move on, which is the very last thing you should ever say to a person who suffers from depression (well, that, or that they are overdramatizing their life, or that it's really not that bad).

I loved Asher's and Carolyn Mackler's The Future of Us, but in this book, Asher skillfully leads us through the darkness, and I barely even noticed the author was there. It's a tough topic to take on, but I can imagine this book resonating with young adults everywhere. I sure hope it does. Because depression and suicide are big issues that we all will come face to face with at some point in our lives. For some, much more often than others. And with help and support, depression does not have to lead to suicide.


Sue Heavenrich said...

This is a powerful book - glad you are posting a review.

monicadevine said...

And sometimes it's not even about events that stack up, but a mind that wakes up every day under a dark cloud, pooled in a sea of unknown dread. How long will it take for the stigma attached to mental illness be lifted (as it has for alcoholism)?