This book has been on my radar for quite some time but I finally got around to reading it now that the book has become a series on Netflix, a series which I am watching as I type up this review. And I have such mixed feelings about it.
The book touches on some very heavy subjects. Suicide. Sexual assault. Bullying. What it’s like to be the person who notices the bullying and a persons downward spiral and yet not feel comfortable saying anything about it. It’s all there. And it’s rough.
Hannah, we find out just a few pages in, has committed suicide, but before she did she recorded tapes addressed to thirteen different people. These tapes, she says, lay out some of the reasons why she killed herself and each tape relates back to a certain person. Only it’s not just thirteen people and thirteen “reasons”. It’s how all of those people led to other situations and interactions and how everything piled onto this teenage girl over a relatively short-ish period of time.
The thing I found most troubling though are some of the negative reviews I’ve read since I finished the book earlier this afternoon. I’m not saying the book is perfect and I’m not saying that any of the characters, not even Clay or Hannah herself, were perfect but some of the negatives are just awful.
So many reviewers/people commenting on reviews said that the “reasons” Hannah gave for killing herself were unrealistic and wouldn’t have led a normal teenager to suicide. Oh really? You don’t find it realistic that a girl who was mocked, sexually assaulted, and felt unsafe at school, home, and in her own skin would ever kill herself? As if that doesn’t every day. And so many people also said that Hannah should have just gotten over it all. That’s the point. Some people can’t get over things. Some people have anxiety or depression and they can’t “just get over” hurtful things.
And yes, many of us readers have experienced worse and not killed ourselves but that’s just it. Everyone is different. Everyone reacts in different ways to bullying and losing our friends and getting caught up in sticky situations. Everyone has a different breaking point. In the story, Hannah had clearly reached hers.
And I also read several reviews where people said that if Hannah had actually wanted help then she would have asked for it instead of just dropping hints here and there. Once again, are you really surprised? We live in a world where people are told to “just suck it up.” We live in a world where mental illness is stigmatized. Asking for help is not always easy for a multitude of reasons.
Now maybe it was selfish and petty of Hannah to bring everyone else into it. Maybe some of them didn’t deserve to feel so awful, or feel that they caused her to want to kill herself. But on the other hand, it made a point of how we never know how others are feeling, how much of a ripple effect just a single hurtful comment can have. And that’s an important narrative to have.