I find this a very difficult review to write. I’ve begun and rewritten the first sentence five times
now, because I don’t want to proselytize on the morality of suicide. I don’t condone it. I’d be a fool to do so, but nor do I wish to spend much of this review focusing on the seemingly inadequate reasons why Hannah ultimately makes her decision to end her life. And yet, by characterizing them as such, I have already passed judgment, but one can’t know the
cumulative effect that life’s events, however insignificant they seem, will have on a person simply by standing by and looking on from the sidelines. I cannot like Hannah as a narrator, however well I believe Asher managed to make her voice shine. I purport not to judge the reasons for her actions, yet I can’t help but do so, especially when she has lain all thirteen out so carefully for her audience to judge as they may.
Still, while I dislike Hannah, I cannot dislike the book. Considering how central my enjoyment of characters is to my enjoyment of a book as a whole, this is a large concession. While Asher never manages to fully flesh out our second narrator, Clay, he is imbued with enough sincerity to garner our sympathies. However, I find it odd that in a novel whose subject matter touches the heart of humanity, of how our actions speak of our characters, it is the plot that rivets readers more than the characters. Asher certainly has concocted a series of narratives that keep you on the edge of your seat. The book’s pace is as swift as its melancholy tone allows, sweeping readers up in Clay’s confusion and pain while encouraging us to race through the pages. We know how things are in the end, but we don’t know how they get there.
I found the voices of Asher’s characters authentic, the plot unpredictable, yet I’m not sure what message he ultimately hoped to get across. If he wanted readers to take a closer look at the way their actions affect the lives of others, I suppose he succeeded. However, I didn’t find that message in the ways the different actors treated Hannah, for they weren’t the cause of her suicide; that decision rested with her, no matter what circumstances might have surrounded it. If anything, I believe Asher makes his case through the impact that Hannah’s decision has on each of her thirteen reasons. She might have left the tapes for closure, or perhaps for vindictive catharsis, but whatever the reason, both her absence and her recorded legacy take their toll on those she left behind.
My thoughts on this book won’t really settle themselves, so I’ll leave it for now with an endorsement to read it, if for nothing else than an interesting literary premise.