Clay Jensen doesn't want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made. Hannah is dead. Her secrets should be buried with her.
Then Hannah's voice tells Clay that his name is on her tapes - and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death.
All through the night, Clay keeps listening. He follows Hannah's recorded words throughout his small town...
...and what he discovers changes his life forever.
I have already told you ad nauseum that I am just a few...decades...beyond the YA (young adult) target audience. And, yet, I have read some wonderful YA books: The Princess of Las Pulgas (C. Lee McKenzie, Salt to the Sea (Ruta Sepetys), An Ember in the Ashes (Sabaa Tahir), The Voyages of the Legend series (Alina Sayre), Wyndano's Cloak (A. R. Silverberry), and a bunch more. Well, this might not be one of my very favorite YA's, but it's certainly a very good book (3.25/4).
This book reminds me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society in its uniqueness. That one, if you recall, consisted entirely of letters. This one is mostly tapes. Clay does have some live interaction with people while he's going through the tapes. But this is basically about the 13 tapes, hence TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY. It's fun, once in a while, to read stuff that is different from everybody else's stuff.
There were definitely some moments that caught me completely off guard. There's one incident, about 2/3 of the way through, where I audibly shouted "OMG!" and "WOW!" There's another spot just a couple of pages before the OMG/WOW place where I teared up and totally didn't expect to do that. I was also hit in the solar plexus about a 1/3 of the way through when Clay comes across somebody else on the tapes. I did NOT see that coming.
And, equally important as the surprises, the unique concept, and the emotional pull, the book is also well-written. You gotta have that. Take a look:
"Around the opposite sex, especially back then, my tongue twisted into knots even a Boy Scout would walk away from."
"We took our place in the stream of students heading to the party - like joining a bunch of salmon heading upstream to mate."
Kudos to Jay for writing a very clever book and writing it well. Is it a little rough? Of course. Teen suicide is no joke, especially for this father of 3 adults (and grandfather of 4 pre-teens). Can high school kids be mean, cruel, and insensitive? We know that they can. But despite all of that, this is very readable. And maybe it will help kids who read it behave a little more compassionately toward their peers. You never know when you might be the one who makes all the difference.
P.S. My recommender told me that, initially, the author was just going to go with the tapes. He was convinced by his editor to add Clay's present-day musings and actions. I think it was a VERY good decision.