This book is not an easy read. It shouldn’t be. It’s tragic. It’s the story of a young girl who commited suicide, but it’s more than that. It’s the story of how the accumulation of many, some seemingly innocuous, acts led to that ending for her life. When the story begins, Hannah is already dead. I’m not spoiling anything really, this is a known fact pretty much from the beginning of the story. It lends the rest of the book a sense of futility, a desire to change the story unfolding before your eyes, but the inability to do so because it’s already happened.
Clay, a high school student who knew Hannah, gets a package in the mail with 13 cassette tapes. On each tape, Hannah has recorded a vignette about someone in her high school class who contributed to her decision to commit suicide. The people receiving the tapes are the ones on them. It’s left up to each to listen to all of the tapes and learn what part they played in Hannah’s story. Interspersed throughout the stories narrated by Hannah is the story of Clay, as he comes to terms with the information he receives from the tapes, what he does with that information, and how he processes it into his world view.
This novel will stick with you. It’s an important read, given the spike in teenage suicides due to serious issues like bullying. It also deals with important issues surrounding alcohol, consent, sexual assault and rape. It’s not a light read. It’s heavy and dark and sad. What I appreciate it about it, though, is that it did not pull punches. Hannah is decided on her course of action as she narrates her story, but is not necessarily reconciled to her fate. She’s still angry and upset that no one could help her. Her voice reads authentically to me, as does Clay’s. He’s confused and upset and wondering how he could ever play a part in her story. He’s not only dealing with her loss, but trying to understand how it could have been avoided, and how many people in his world are guilty. These are teenagers. Immature, but yearning to be adults. Yearning for freedom and acceptance. Story by story, Hannah’s armor is chipped away until there’s nothing left. Each story Clay listens to changes his view of those around him. Each story represents a time when someone could’ve changed Hannah’s life for the better. Each story feels like a punch in the gut. The experience of reading it was not unlike watching a very slow train wreck happen, but you can’t look away, no matter how much you want to.
Overall, I recommend this book. It was heartbreaking and hard to read. It’s topical, given the current climate in high schools. The characters were believable. Some were even sympathetic. As you read, you’ll try to find a way to cope with Hannah’s death, much as Clay does. It won’t be simple. (Also, Netflix is currently in the process of making this a miniseries. I’m interested to see how it turns out).
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars