13 reasons this book made me homicidal: a review of Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Cover of "Thirteen Reasons Why"
Cover of Thirteen Reasons Why

I picked up Thirteen Reasons Why recently because it was on my list of “to read” and it had received much critical acclaim. Also it was one of two books I’d brought with me while traveling (not including the two I read on mom’s Kindle). I figured it might be okay, at least.

Allow me to give you 13 reasons I dislike it. And by “dislike”, I mean “hate psychotically.”

[TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE AND ASSAULT]

[SPOILERS]

1. Support of the “Well, she didn’t technically say ‘no’ so it’s not technically rape, right?” trope. The character who gets raped [I’m talking about Hannah; the other character who gets raped is tossed aside like a piece of garbage, her views never explored] is herself unsure if it was rape or no, which is very common because we all get taught that we’re dirty and naughty unless we shout no! in a loud voice — but we’re trained from an early age to never say no, because then the menfolk might get violent. That’s not what I have issue with; I have issue with the book itself seeming unsure regarding the conclusion. If the character who’d been raped could not unequivocally call it that, then another character who knew about it (there were three) should have been clear. Without that clarity it seems the author is saying he agrees that it’s “grey-area rape”. Anything short of enthusiastic consent is rape. Not saying no does not equal consent. The fact that the character was crying and clenching her teeth just to get through it should have alerted the others who knew about the situation that it was rape. Instead, we get vague hand-waving of “well maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t,” and this is wholly irresponsible of the author and holds up standards of misogyny and rape culture.

2. The structure of the book is highly manipulative. The reader is lead on a very deliberate route, leaving no leeway for interpretation. Asher has a conclusion that he wants you to reach and he makes sure you reach it. This leaves you feeling used and abused once the book is done.

3. Horrible characterization: there is no sympathy for Hannah Baker. She’s badly written. Hannah is portrayed as cold, calculating, selfish and childish. Suicidal people get portrayed as selfish all the time, so this is an old, tired, trope. Instead, you feel sympathy for Clay Jensen, who is a basically good guy [even thought he’s been raised steeped in patriarchal rape culture but that’s not really his fault and despite it he seems to turn out okay, at least] who is in love with Hannah. He had no idea how deeply disturbed she was, and feels she didn’t really give him a chance to help her. The added blow of giving him the tapes will give him guilt and anger towards her, which is unfair and childish: suicidal people usually don’t plan big manipulation games like this. We’re too lost in our own pain to even fucking care about how our deaths are going to affect others — and no, that’s not being selfish, that’s called having bodily autonomy. Also, if you can’t understand what it’s like to just want to die because you’re in so much pain, shut the fuck up about suicidal people being selfish. You have no idea.

The attitude of Hannah, the whole “I’ll just kill myself and THEN won’t they be sorry!” makes her look like a spoiled child, and not someone who’s truly in a lot of pain.
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