Currently I'm a librarian and before that I was an archaeologist, a journalist, and definitely a bit of a world traveler. I tend to mostly read science fiction and fantasy, though I do love a good mystery and I'm a bit of a book dabbler overall. I've been doing Goodreads for awhile, but a friend thought I might enjoy this as well. Let's see, yeah?
This novel was both impossible to put down and difficult to continue. Asher writes so compellingly and there are multiple lines of suspense to keep you going, but the subject matter is hard. I guess one reason this is a five star book for me is that I can completely understand Clay's reasons for listening to the tapes all in one go -- I was right there with him.
If you read the description on the back of the book or the first couple pages, you know exactly where the story ends. There's no coyness there. A girl killed herself and now we get to find out why.
There are a lot of other reasons this is a five star book. I've some experiences with people suffering depression and with people attempting or succeeding with suicide. Asher gets it completely right in his book. If you look at goodreads (at least right now) there is a very popular review where a girl says that she hated the book because Hannah (the girl who kills herself) was such a weak character and that her reasons for killing herself weren't good enough, basically. I'm not going to go into whether there are are reasons that are good enough -- that seems like a debate for another forum -- but I think that reviewer is missing the point. I don't think she understands there's a difference between, "Gosh I'm so depressed," and clinical depression. There's a huge difference -- the first is being bummed out or sad. The second is a terrible weight that makes everything seem like too much.
I'm kind of sad that so many people can read the book and not walk away with that understanding.
The book has other morals to it that I think that reviewer also didn't pick up on -- or at least were obscured by her ire at a "weak" character...
Let me just say here, that just because someone can't deal with "small" things because they are depressed, it doesn't mean they are weak -- they aren't just collapsing under the weight of one little tiny incident. They're collapsing under the weight of that incident AND depression and all that comes with it. They're holding up under more pressure than most of us have ever been under. In some ways Hannah is a strong person for lasting as long as she did... But she's a strong character who makes some terrible decisions and end with one she can't come back from. And, sadly, she's also a character who made a decision before she acknowledged that she did.
At any rate, back to morals. I think Asher really wants us to think about how the way we treat each other matters -- whether you are a teen or an adult. It may seem like a tiny prank or revenge, but you don't know what someone is going through and you don't know what other effects your action will have. Somewhere in the book Hannah says this thing that I really like -- that is so true: that someone might think they are only affecting one portion of her life with their action, but things don't stay neatly boxed like that and so move into other parts of her life and cause issues there.
Anyway, enough preaching and on to more reasons this book is so great. I think Asher captured high school life very well and he creates very real seeming characters, as well as great voices for his protagonists. As I said earlier, the tension is perfect and the descriptions of depression are very true to life. Really, I guess, I could just keep going on. It's a practically perfect novel that I'll not be reading again because I don't like to read things that make me sad. ;)
While Asher is including some purpose to his story, he isn't writing a story about right and wrong, necessarily. He's writing a story about how we affect each other. Do I think that Hannah's tapes are the right thing to do? No, not really at all. I think that some people are probably going to be unjustly scarred by this. But then again... Maybe they'll grow from it.
I am extremely eager to read his next novel which doesn't seem to be focused on such heavy material.