Thursday, January 29, 2009

He Said, She Said: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Welcome to He Said, She Said, a GLW feature in which a guy (Book Chic, a recent college graduate) and a gal (Little Willow, a bookseller) discuss books that appeal to both genders.

With its dual narrative, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is the perfect choice for a He Said, She Said discussion. In the story, a teenage boy receives a package from an unknown sender filled with cassette tapes. Once he starts listening to the tapes, he recognizes the voice as that of Hannah Baker, a classmate who recently committed suicide. She explains that the tapes should be passed from person to person, thirteen specific people who are related to her story in some way.
Hannah and Clay share narrative duties. Did you prefer one voice or character over the other? Why?

Book Chic: I didn't prefer one over the other. Both characters were evenly flawed and were also really interesting and realistic to read about. I liked reading through both narratives; both brought a great layer to the novel.

Little Willow: Because she was talking straightforwardly, without any interruptions or descriptions aside from that which was observed or felt by Clay, I really heard Hannah’s voice as I read the book. I was drawn to her character more than Clay’s because of my inherent need to protect, help, and save people – even though I knew from the start that it was futile in Hannah’s case, as she was 1) dead and 2) fictional.

Did you feel as if either Hannah or Clay was an unreliable narrator?

BC: For some reason, I never wonder about reliability when reading a book, even for a class. It always surprises me when the question pops up. Perhaps I'm too naive but I tend to take things at face value, so if that's how it happened in the book, that's how that happened. Unless of course I'm reading a book about a compulsive liar or something, in which case it's known that the narrator is unreliable. So that's a long way of saying that I didn't feel either narrator was unreliable. I mean, maybe Hannah could have been unreliable either for a part of or the whole of the novel since she had already decided for the most part to commit suicide, so she could've been looking for any reason to go through it and twisted things to fit what she felt. But I don't think that was the case.

LW: I believed both of them. I think Hannah relayed what she felt, and that Clay reacted accordingly. Hannah never whimpered or whined; she had been the victim of some cruel events and pranks, and she described them as she remembered them. Clay, meanwhile, was more of a semi-casual observer. He knew Hannah, and they weren’t strangers, but they weren’t close. As the book is set up, with him listening to the tapes Hannah left behind, he had nothing to gain from feigning ignorance or from being boastful. He was alone, listening, learning, and that allowed readers access to his feelings as well as to Hannah’s words.

Without giving too much away, let’s simply say that there are some characters which greatly wronged Hannah, and some who inadvertently got caught up in everything, like Clay. He wasn't really a bad guy, especially not when compared to some of the other people / reasons on the tapes. So...

Do you wish he HAD been more of a bad guy, someone who was a perpetrator of a crime committed against Hannah? Or do you think he was?

BC: I think that it was the right decision to have him be a good guy because otherwise, the reader's perception of him would have changed halfway through the novel. While it might be a good twist to have him be a bad guy or one that was more at fault than he thought, it doesn't seem to me like it'd be the right choice for the story. For one thing, it makes the story more relateable in a sense because Clay didn't do anything to really harm Hannah in any way, and neither did the reader so Clay's reactions to Hannah's story are closer to our own as we read (or listen) to the novel. And also, the point of the novel, in my opinion, is to show that even the slightest thing can lead someone even more down the spiral because you never know everything that's going on in someone's life. Your own choices, your own words, your own decisions and actions will affect others. If Clay had been someone bad who had really wronged Hannah, I don't think that point would have come across as well as it does the way the novel is.

LW: I agree. When stories are narrated well by anti-heroes, that’s one thing, but when the narrator is someone utterly deplorable and/or the story is poorly written, I can’t stand it. I liked that Clay was more of an observer, so that readers could slip easily into his shoes (or ears, as it were) and discover what happened to Hannah.

What was your favorite scene?

BC: I'm not really sure I had one. Everything about the novel was amazing, and there isn't one particular scene that sticks out in my mind. There's at least a couple. Actually, there is one I did really enjoy. I don't know if it's my favorite, but it's the one fighting to the forefront right now. It's the part where Clay is meeting his mom at the diner and I just loved how she didn't nag him or make him come home or anything like that; she knew he was going through something and needed his space to do it in. I also really liked the scene in the coffee place where Hannah used to go with the other two new kids (the names are escaping me now) and Clay was listening to the tape there and he found the photo in the scribble journals on the bookshelves. I'm not sure why that scene popped up, but it did and I did like it.

LW: The journals. The photo. The map. The window. The journey, all of it. The last tape.

Same story, different formats.

LW: I read the book in 2008. You listened to the audio in 2008. How was that experience for you? What do you get out of audio books that you don't get from the printed page? How were the performances?

BC: I read the book as well in early 2008 and reviewed it too. When I finally found a job, it was just doing data entry so it's not like rocket science and therefore I could listen to stuff while working. Most of my co-workers listen to audio books while they work, so once I gave up on music CDs after like three days, I got some audio books out from the library. One of them was 13 Reasons Why because I'd wanted to listen to it for the longest time since I'd heard it was done with two narrators (one for Clay and the people in his narrative, and one for Hannah and the people in her narrative) and I thought that would be so cool. Plus, I definitely think that with this book, it's more powerful to listen to the audio book since the whole plot hinges on Clay's listening to the tapes; with the audio book, you can listen to the tapes along with Clay, which really brings the story to a whole new level. Toward the end of the novel, just listening to Hannah as she slowly gave up with the last few tapes seriously made my chest tighten because I was just feeling so close to Hannah and her situation that it hurt to listen to it.

I think that listening to an audio book may give the reader more of a sense of the characters because you're listening to them talk and interact, as well as simple things like pronunciation (I was listening to Wicked Lovely and some of the characters' names were said differently than how I had read them) and how certain things were said, in terms of emotion and inflection. Plus, you can finish books faster by listening to the audio books, which is always good. I do like reading and listening to the same book- been listening to a lot of books I've already read and it's fun to revisit them in this format.

I really enjoyed the performances, particularly the one from Debra Wiseman, who did Hannah. She had the PERFECT voice for Hannah, and it was exactly how I pictured it sounding like in my head when I read the book. The guy doing the voice for Clay, Joel Johnstone, did a pretty good job, though I wasn't a huge fan of the women voices he had to do every so often as part of Clay's narrative. I definitely recommend this audio book (as well as the print version) to everyone. It's such a powerful story in both formats, and is definitely one that will stick with the reader once they're done with it.

Check out previous He Said, She Said discussions at GuysLitWire.
Read Book Chic's review of Thirteen Reasons Why.
Read Little Willow's interview with Jay Asher.


BookChic said...

WOOOOO! Go us and our HSSS!

I loved doing this one- such a fantastic book! :)

Little Willow said...


Hannah is a palindrome.