Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)

You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home from school one day to find a mysterious box with his name on it, outside his front door. Inside he discovers a series of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush. Only, she committed suicide two weeks earlier. On the first tape, Hannah explains that there are 13 reasons why she did what she did – and Clay is one of them.

If he listens, Clay will find out how he made the list – what he hears will change his life forever.”

 

2 stars

I had the hardest time trying to work out what to rate this book.  I’d heard a lot about this book, some of it good, some of it bad, all of it quite controversial. I wanted to read it with my own eyes, to see where my own opinions fell on the spectrum.

I had a vested interest in this book, as someone who a) had been a depressed teen and b) is someone considering specialising in child and adolescent mental health in my medical career. My general feeling is that I’m struggling to vocalise what I felt about this book. It didn’t feel like my depression at all, but I know that I can’t speak for everyone. Depression is an amorphous entity, as varied as there are people suffering from it, and everyone’s ‘black dog’ is different. I would say that I didn’t think the book delved into Hannah’s depression particularly deeply, it made the decision to focus on external motivators for her suicide, which, in my opinion, made this book more about how people treat others than suicide.

I liked the message that people should always be kind as no one knows what anyone is going through, but I also felt very uncomfortable with the idea that depression, and suicide, had a basis that could be entirely based in environmental interactions. Depression and suicide are very very complicated subjects and part of me did feel that this story oversimplified that.

I was also wary of the message that all of these ‘crimes’ towards Hannah were ‘reasons’ for her suicide. One of the characters only crime was to let a friendship drift? That’s not a crime against Hannah, that’s life. I feel uncomfortable with the idea that someone who lets a friendship drift (and herself is assaulted later in the story) is in the same league as a rapist. I’m also wary of the message that it sends teens, watching these ‘reasons’ stacking up in their own lives and wondering at what number their life starts to become unliveable. As someone who lived through a not particularly happy high school situation, that experience does not have to follow a person. Who cares who your friends and enemies were in High School? Odds are that you’re never going to see them again. Yes, the issues and problems born in teenage life can plague a person, but there’s therapy and medication and life beyond High School, and I worry that this book did not give that as an option. I wish Clay had challenged some of what Hannah had said, rather than believing it word for word. Depression can make people bitter and angry, it doesn’t necessarily make them the perfect sage counsellor for a book about how people should treat others.

That, I think is key. I don’t think this book was written for suicidal teens. I think it was written for teens who couldn’t even begin to consider that feeling. That job I think it does very well. People should be considering how their actions affect others, one person’s actions can create a domino effect. ‘Treat others as you’d want to be treated yourself’ is the lesson we try to instil in all kids, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to get through. So, I hope that all kids reading this book take that message away, but for kids reading this who are suicidal, this is not the only path you have ahead of you. Please talk to people in your life, don’t waste your precious breaths on a cassette recorder…

Here’s a list of some resources for people who are currently struggling, or those who know someone who is struggling:

-currently suicidal or having thoughts of suicide? Here’s a list of suicide helplines around the world.

for parents or educators who want help in raising the conversation of suicide.

-for American Teens, ‘teenline’ offers phone/ text/email support from fellow teens in discussions of mental health and social problems.

-As always, if you feel in danger, whether it be from yourself or others, your local emergency room, accident and emergency department (UK) or crisis centre should be your first port of call. Mental health is health and you deserve to have your illness treated just like any other illness.

Thank you to Penguin Random House UK and Netgalley for a copy in return for an honest review.

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A Quiet Kind of Thunder (Sara Barnard)

a-quiet-kind-of-thunder

“Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say. Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen. Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder. 

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk and, as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.”

4 stars

I was going to start this review by yelling about how cute this book was. But I just didn’t think that did it justice. Yes, this story is really really cute and I enjoyed it a lot, but it’s also really important. Our protagonist, Steffi, is selectively mute and struggles with anxiety that underpins every single one of her daily interactions. Our love interest, Rhys, is biracial and was born deaf. Steffi, having learnt some BSL to help her communicate when unable to talk, is roped in by her school to help new boy Rhys settle in and they end up finding that the other is the person they feel they’ve always been looking for.

This idea could have ended up really twee, but instead Barnard was honest about some of the difficulties of Steffi and Rhys’ friendship and relationship. There is no awkward feeling that Steffi or Rhys are ‘saved’ by the others existence, or that they couldn’t live their lives without the other, they just really enjoy being together. Indeed, there are a number of believable miscommunications between them fuelled by Steffi’s low self esteem and the fact that Rhys isn’t automatically the perfect human being just because he’s a disabled main character. Both seem beautifully and realistically human  and the relationship between them was so engaging I ended up sitting down and reading the book in one go.

But the relationship isn’t the only talking point of the book, in fact, I’d say it was only one of the plot points in a book that dealt with emotional discussions of grief, therapy and life long female friendship. Steffi is a character that will probably feel instantly recognizable to anyone with anxiety, but even to those who are less familiar, her friendship with her best friend and the way it morphs, changes and strengthens over time is so important. Changing schools, relationships, different life courses all can strain friendships, making those in them fear they may become distant from those that have been part of their lives for as long as they can remember. It was really lovely to see a female friendship meet those challenges and grow from it, not falter in the face of adversity.

For me, the thing that knocked it down a star was the last fifty pages or so. Without giving spoilers, Steffi comes to a realization in the last page that, as someone with anxiety, I feel maybe should have had a little more time spent upon.  I just don’t feel that the decision she made had enough time to come to fruition in the little time spent on it. It felt like a drastic turn around on her thinking in the rest of the book. Whilst her epiphany was a healthy one, it’s very difficult for someone with their anxieties so ingrained to come to that thought process so quickly. The thinking that goes into something like that, something which fights against every iota of your insecurities, feels like torture and I wish that had been given a little more page space.

Overall, this was a great book. Sweet, sad and truthful, it managed to share the beauty of a burgeoning relationship without every shying away from the common, and more specific, pitfalls of the main characters love.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for a copy in return for an honest review.