A note on my reading of YA fiction; I have decided to include these reviews for the sake of educators, parents, and potential younger readers of this blog’s benefit. It is also for the benefit of educators looking to incorporate more socially-rounded literature in their classrooms, or for parents who would like to pre-read or pre-review a book their child is reading in order to foster a positive environment for dialogue. With YA novels, like any other book I review here, you can expect a lot of spoilers.
I was an English Education major before I was an English major, so I took a few classes dealing with YA fiction. One of my favorite classes had this book on a list of options for a presentation. When watching these presentations, I made a note to pick up this book and read on my own time.
The cover states “an important community read,” and that rings true after finishing the book.
TW: suicide, rape, underage drinking, mention of blood and death, mention of car accidents and related death, drunk driving, violence.
We meet Clay Jensen, a high school student who recently lost a friend, Hannah Baker, to suicide. The opening chapter tells us briefly that he is shipping a box full of tapes to someone, mentioning that their contents will make a large negative impression on her life. As it turns out, the tapes that he is mailing off were originally sent to him, a box of chain-mail that tells Hannah’s story, and ultimately why she ended her life. Thirteen stories, thirteen people, thirteen sides of seven tapes (the final side of tape seven is unrecorded).
In order to avoid too many spoilers, I won’t tell many characters’ stories, instead I’ll focus on feminist elements in the story.
- On the first side of the first tape, we see that Hannah was slut-shamed and the repercussions of rumors. (boyfriend who lied about their sexual encounters).
- On the back of the same tape, we hear discuss feminist themes such as the commodification of women’s body parts after she ‘wins’ best ass in the freshman class on classmate’s list. Later, another classmate grabs her ass and further physically assault her before he tells her to ‘calm down,’ because he was ‘joking,’ which she thoroughly discusses.
- We see mention of victim-blaming when Hannah brings up a peeping tom.
- Keeping in relatability for the audience, we see girl on girl hate with Courtney and the drawer rumor, which also tied back into slut-shaming.
- TW: Rape of drunken/unconscious student occurs while Hannah hides in the closet.
- Following the rape scene, Hannah flees the party with another classmate who was drinking, later we hear about a fatal car accident that resulted from Hannah’s friend hitting a stop sign.
- The final side of the final tape is recorded during a failed counseling meeting with a beloved teacher who did not properly respond to Hannah’s suicidal comments.
In the closing chapter of the book we see Clay realize that had he and his classmates seen the tell-tale signs of a suicidal person in Hannah, she could have been helped. Skye, an ‘outsider’ who we met in a previous chapter is wandering the halls when Clay sees her and realizes that she displays similar signs. The closing statement in the book is Clay saying her name, ready to help make a difference in her life.
Asher’s book is intensely emotional, as it should be, but at times unrealistically emotional. The protagonist experiences a snowball effect of his own while listening to the tapes, even staying the night at a local playground instead of going home after finishing the tapes. Though the emotion seems too intense for adult readers, it keeps in typical themes and voice with many other YA novels.
Asher’s book has a heavy feminist undertone, specifically through Hannah’s voice. In her recordings, she mentions several instances in a very gender-related way that allows the reader to grasp feminist ideology without the word being dropped into the text, something that definitely puts young minds in the right mindset to begin understanding those concepts without approaching them with bias. For this reason, I would recommend it to younger audiences. As far as age groups go, I would recommend high school students over middle school students, specifically for the heavy scenes, though more mature students in middle school could benefit from the reading.
If you’d like to listen to the tapes, they are available here. Though they cover the majority of the story, you would be lacking Clay’s stream of consciousness and his input by listening to these instead of reading the book in totality.
The national suicide hotline number: 1 (800) 273-8255
Crisis text-line: text “go” to 741-741
Link to buy on Amazon
I give this book a 7/10.