Yet another disappointing bookclub selection. Though, if truth be told, I can't blame this one entirely on my bookclub, because I've wanted to read it for a long time, I just never got around to it.
So, the premise here is that Hannah Baker killed herself, and left a series of tapes as her suicide note, implicating all of the people, including herself, that she blames for causing her to end her life.
If you know me, you know that I love a book that will give me a good kick in the gut. If a book is going to claim to deal with emotional issues, I want it to be real and honest. This? This just felt shallow, and too much of it was just... petty. There was no dealing with emotional issues here, there was just pettiness and selfishness.
A word of warning, there will likely be story details in this review, and it will be ranty.
I can kind of understand why this book has such high ratings on Goodreads. (It currently has a 4.06 average.) This book is the kind that will speak to many people. "Be wary of how you treat people," this book says, "as yours may be the interaction that pushes someone over the edge... or saves them from the brink." But to me, the whole premise just seemed like a cop-out. It was like an exercise in finger-pointing and responsibility-dodging from page one.
This is a sensitive topic, teen suicide. Teens are sensitive creatures and everything is just so much more significant and meaningful. Things that adults would shrug off with a "shit happens" can traumatize a teen for weeks. But there comes a point where you have to decide whether you want your life to be yours, or if you will allow others to hold power over it. You have to be accountable for your own life - nobody else can do that for you. And that's a big, big problem that I had with this book.
I actually thought that this book would deal more with depression than it did. In fact, depression was barely even touched upon. Instead, it was just the finger-pointing and blame game, aimed at teens oblivious to how their selfish teen selves can affect others. And to then expect these same selfish teens to realize that not only are their actions causing hurt, but that they lead to a string of other situations which also cause hurt? When the one being hurt never says anything? To me, I just don't see that as realistic. They are teens being teens, they aren't pyscho-analysts.
Maybe I'm being insensitive. I believe in communicating clearly when you need something, especially if your life is on the line, so I sometimes have a hard time feeling empathy when I feel people don't try hard enough to help themselves. Why should someone else help you if you aren't willing to help yourself? And even then, they can only help if they know you need
For instance, if school was so unbearable, why not leave and homeschool instead? Or even just drop out? By my estimation, Hannah was a Junior, so she could have opted to do either one. (I left school in order to homeschool myself in my Junior year, and that was... quite a few years ago. There are even more options now, including online education, etc.)
Why not talk to her parents and tell them she needs counseling?
Why not? Because then she would likely have gotten help, and then there's no book. And then she couldn't enact her vindictive post-suicide guilt-trips.
But wait! I'm sure you're thinking "She DID go to her guidance counselor, and he didn't help her!" Yes, that's true. But she didn't really expect or even want him to, did she? She'd already made her mind up... Why else would she have recorded the session? She'd already decided, and wanted one last person to 'fail' her in order to justify it. Just like with Bryce, Mr. Porter was another person she used to justify her suicidal decision. I think that at the very end, she's actually a little surprised that her plan worked so well.
That sounds cruel, even to me. I don't actually blame Hannah for evoking this feeling in me, though... I blame the author. He made her character shallow, petty, cruel, and unaccountable for her own actions (and inaction), while she held others responsible for every little thing. Things that come with just being teens. The author did this to her, made her hypercritical and hypocritical, and I couldn't identify with her, or feel for her, and seriously disliked her.
I wanted Hannah, who is intelligent enough to piece together this matrix of societal shortcomings in order to lay blame, and intelligent enough to intricately plan her elaborate suicide chain-letter, to be intelligent enough to recognize her own need for help... and to really seek it out and WANT to help herself.
Instead, she cruelly, and sometimes maliciously happily, divides the responsibility of her death up 13 ways and dishes it out like poisoned pie.
When I first started the book, and up until about halfway through, I thought that all of the things that led to Hannah's death happened within a few months of her moving to town. I thought that these thirteen things just stacked on top of each other in a short time, making her life unbearable, and she just was unable to cope anymore with all of it weighing on her - being new, and ridiculed, and harassed, and stalked... But that wasn't the case. She let the situation build to the breaking point over about 3 years. Never once speaking up about her growing depression and desperation, until she decided to put an end to it once and for all.
I'm actually semi-convinced that this was all a huge ruse, and that she didn't actually kill herself, but wants people to believe she had. There are even details that seem to support that: her funeral being held out of town, her parents' store closed and them gone too, her desire to start fresh in a new life, and even her intricate planning of the whole thing. It seems like the kind of thing that someone would want to watch implode. And I absolutely would not put it past Hannah. She seem just vindictive enough to do it, considering that she's made 13 teens complicit in her death - something that will stay with them forever, as she clearly intended.
Maybe I'm reading into that... but we'll never really know, will we? We only see things through Clay's perspective while he listens to these tapes he received in the mail. And Hannah's not quite the innocent victim you'd think... While it's true that she had her own emotional turmoil going on, she sat by and let a horrific violation happen. She did nothing to stop it, when all that would be needed was to make her presence known. She did nothing to report it after the fact, either, even to the unconscious girl who was violated, as though her own decision to give up and shut down negated the other girl's right to know what had happened to her. And it's not as though she was never going to tell... No, she decided to do it via suicide tape. Because Hannah's middle name is "Tact", apparently. That's a violation in itself, and an appalling one, no matter what disagreements they may have had. Disgusting, and just cruel.
Moving on to Clay, our other main character... He's meant to be the White Knight, the counterpoint to the self-absorbed teens populating Hannah's Guilt Tapes. He's harbored a crush on Hannah for years, but was too much of a pansy to talk to her until she was too far gone to accept any kind of friendship. But good lord... he could have A flaw, other than being said pansy, right? SOMETHING. Maybe he was a serial pencil borrower but never returned any of them. Maybe he was a mouth-breather? Anything. No way. The only thing he ever did was lie to his mom with the ever-popular "school project" line and then steal his friend's Walkman. Though he probably returned it. Lame. He is so perfect as to be nausea inducing.
His reactions to her tapes were so damn annoying. He overreacted to nearly every line Hannah spoke. (Though why he continued to do so after she revealed so much of herself is beyond me. )
Hannah: "I was stood up on Valentine's Day. Well, not really stood up, but he was late. And then he touched my knee, and when I didn't tell him not to after he asked if he should stop, he continued and I pushed him out of the booth, and NOBODY even helped me! "
Clay: "OMG WHY?? Marcus, you dick! You asshole! I'm going to punch you in the face when I see you!"
Hannah: "After that, I thought, 'What would happen if I never came back to school?'"
Clay: "No! Hannah WHY? Why couldn't you talk to me? I would have helped you! I could have been there for you!!"
Hannah: "And then I cut my hair."
Clay: "And I didn't even notice. I didn't notice the warning signs. I should have seen. I should have helped her. I should have..." blah blah blah.
He should have grown a pair and maybe tried to talk to her once. In three years.
Anyway... I failed to find anything redeeming in this book. It deals with a topic that I think is important, and that needs to be talked about and part of our education, but I think this book dealt with it extremely poorly. It just turned what should be a tragedy into a game of Pass The Blame - Now With Even MORE Ruined Lives!. And that's disturbing.