The popsicles held out, the heat is about to break, and on top of it all, I smell a weekend!

One of the very interesting things about TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY by Jay Asher was the writing.  We have two separate stories going on here: the story of Hannah’s surrender to hopelessness and despair and the story of Clay staying up all night to hear the final confessions of a dead girl.  Hannah’s words are written in italics while Clay is in the standard font.  For the first couple of chapters, this was a little confusing and had a fragmented feel.  But, as I got used to it, it started to sound almost like a conversation between Clay and Hannah.

This duel narration is the heart of this book.  I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book where there are two simultaneous points of view.  Not point of view shifts or point of view violations but two first person narratives going on at the same time, one on top of the other.  I can’t imagine the schizophrenia it takes as a writer to do this.  You have two completely distinct voices: a quirky, angry girl in despair and a sweet boy grieving her death.  Imagine that!  Most of us struggle to create just one authentic voice!

In the follow-up teaching exercise at the end of my copy of the book, Mr. Asher describes his writing technique.  He said that he wrote the whole story through from Hannah’s perspective and considered leaving the book at that.  However, he decided that he needed Clay’s perspective to tell the story honestly.  And I agree with his decision.  Clay’s perspective adds tension (Why the heck is Clay on the list???) and it adds sympathy (Clearly, here’s at least one person who cared for Hannah.  Surely other people must have, too).  It shows some of the aftermath of suicide, something that certainly does away with the danger of making it seem attractive.  It was also incredibly ambitious and leaves me very humbled (and more than a little jealous).

Here’s another interesting thing:  Hannah and Clay never really interact in this book, but you feel like they do.  There are moments where Clay thinks something and Hannah says the same thing on the tape.  Hannah makes an observation of a mutual acquaintance and Clay agrees in his head.  It’s odd, but it’s almost like Clay is the ghost and Hannah is the living person.  Hannah tells her story and Clay is unable to do anything but listen.  He can’t change anything and he can’t talk to Hannah.

In this whole book, the pseudo-interaction between Hannah and Clay is what caused my most intense emotional response.  The reader can see what might have been between these two.  They almost finish each other’s sentences.  You really do wish that things could have been different. This relationship has the same bittersweet feel of any unrequited romance but it’s even more haunting because you know Hannah is dead.

So, this is TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY by Jay Asher.  If you’re hesitant about the subject matter, I understand that.  I think the suicide is handled well and without melodrama but it just can’t be a comfortable subject.  Nor should it.  If you’re thinking of writing something with a journal-style feel or multiple points of view, I would consider giving it a look as a great example of how to achieve this.

I’ll see you on Monday!

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