Friday, May 14, 2010

Ah, High School

I'm mostly not into YA that captures the truth about what it is to be a young adult, mostly because, well, I'm not suffering from that particular affliction anymore (hallelujah) and it often runs to depressing. I don't mean to be dismissive, because I think books like that do important work for people going through a really difficult time. But the way I relate to those issues is both distant and excruciating, and I'd just as soon not, thanks.

So Thirteen Reasons Why is not my typical YA read. I already explained how I was sucked in by their marketing, and I'm still enjoying listening to the excerpts from the tapes as I go through the book. But of course, it really has to stand on its own as a novel, and I think it does an okay job of that. Actually, a better job than a lot of YA "issue" books, in my opinion.

It's the story of a guy listening to the tapes that are basically his classmate's suicide note. In the tapes, she explains how it came to this for her. What I find interesting the number of levels on which it looks at the high school social experience.

There's Hannah's explanation of being the subject of gossip, especially when it's wrong. It's interesting to see how she kind of deconstructs the whole experience. She sees through a lot of the bull. But there's another level on which Clay (the listener) has it up on her--he sees through some of her perceptions. Since she killed herself, she obviously ended up at all the worst conclusions about everything she saw, but he sees another level where sometimes, if Hannah had reached out, or even accepted others' reaching out, things could have been different.

At the same time, there's another layer of storytelling in Clay's narrative. Because he's describing how he wanders around and interacts with some of his classmates as he listens to these tapes, and you can see him completely missing their inner lives, skimming over them as background noise where there is clearly depth that he's missing. And you see how this happened to Hannah, and how only because she killed herself does he have the luxury of imagining a different outcome.

The levels of observation that author has embedded in the book are really skillful, and I'm impressed. It's very good for a teen issue novel. But I'll tell you the truth; it doesn't really transcend what it is. If you asked me if I'd recommend it to a teen interested in stories like this--absolutely, yes, I think they'd be enthralled. But would I recommend it to an adult? Sad to say, probably not.

1 comment:

JMLC said...

I felt much the same way- it felt too surface somehow, rather than deep. I wanted it to be more than it was since I thought it was a clever idea.