I wanted to read this book after hearing it reviewed on the Enthusiasticast podcast. They raved about it and I thought it sounded like an interesting concept.
The premise of the book is that a teenager, Hannah, commits suicide and leaves behind a box of cassette tapes for thirteen people to listen to. The thirteen people appear to be people who have wronged her in some way and it is the culmination of these wrongs which have led to her suicide. She instructs them to listen to the tapes and then pass them on to the next person on the list.
Initially I thought this was an interesting insight into how our actions, no matter how small, can affect other people. It is a lesson to teenagers to think more about what they say and do and how it might impact on people around them. However, towards the end of the book I began to really dislike the Hannah’s character. The more her story revealed itself, the more selfish and self-centred she appeared to be. Her tapes are explaining to people how their actions have affected her, but what about her actions? What about the poor people who have to listen to how they have contributed no matter how slightly to their classmate’s death? What about her parents and the other innocent people who have had to deal with her suicide? In the end her actions are much worse than anything that is done to her.
***Spoilers from this point***
To top it all, we find out that, Clay, the character from whose point of view we are experiencing the tapes, has done nothing bad to Hannah. In fact he loves her and, had she given him more of a chance, could probably have helped her out of the depression which led to her suicide. She was not alone and she is inflicting the horrible content of these tapes, which include her part in not stopping both a rape and a drunk-driving incident which results in a classmate’s death, on this sweet boy who wants nothing but good things for her. She just seems like a monumentally selfish person and once you realise that, it’s actually hard to feel any sympathy for her.
This book should have been an insightful morality tale to teach teenagers the importance of considering others in their actions but it falls flat because it tries to include too many shocking horrible events which overshadow and undermine this basic message.
Also the basic concept is fundamentally flawed. No one uses cassette tapes any more, Asher even needs to include a silly section where Clay has to steal a Walkman in order to listen to them. Why not just set it in the 80’s when tapes would have made sense, or make it an mp3 player the recipients have to pass on? I was willing to overlook this at the beginning of the book when the story was intriguing and there was a mystery over what Clay had done to Hannah to make him be included on the tapes, but once the plot started to flail I felt less forgiving.
An interesting idea which could have been better executed.