13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.”

Fair warning, this post contains spoilers for both the book and Netflix series adaptation, as well as potentially triggering subject matter.

About a month ago I flipped through Netflix, selected a series entitled 13 Reasons Why and binge watched the entire thing in a day and a half. Afterwards, I switched off the television and I cried. Two weeks ago, I read the book that inspired the series in a single afternoon. I turned the final page and wept.

If you haven’t been following the internet storm around Jay Asher’s powerful YA novel and its television adaptation, it centres on 13 tapes recorded by 17-year-old Hannah Baker prior to her suicide. Each tape involves a specific person who Hannah feels played a role in her tragic decision, and as per her instruction, the tapes are passed from one person to the next. This very dark premise touches on themes of high school bullying, slut-shaming, rape, the meaning of consent and the tragedy of teen suicide. It never shies away from presenting its subject matter in the most raw, honest and straightforward way possible. This approach has also garnered more than its fair share of criticism. Do a quick Google search and you’ll find article after article debating whether the series glamorises suicide. For myself, reading about and watching a young girl silently sink deeper and deeper into what we know from the get-go is an inevitability, was nothing less than harrowing.

Because I have been a Hannah Baker.
I kept quiet while being severely bullied in school. I simply relented, never fought back. The shy, silent target. Easy.
I stood quietly while being sexually abused. I still often wonder whether he took my silence for some perverted form of agreement.
I sat silently on my bed while my mind conjured scenarios in which I would have taken my own life in an angry, vindictive manner. Because then they would finally see and hear what I couldn’t show or tell them.

I relate to Hannah’s nightmare. There was never anything glamorous or heroic about my thoughts. They were a sticky tar of shame and fear which I am infinitely grateful I never gave in to. I feel that I should add that what kept me going throughout those years was writing – for many people a refuge and a therapy – and reading about girls who went through the same things I did. I was still silent, but I was not alone after all and imagination kept the darkness at bay. Although, at 30, I am yet to tame it and I do note that speaking up and getting professional help would have helped me heal a lot more successfully. But I am here, and for now, that is enough.

When you read Jay Asher’s book, Hannah’s voice is initially angry, bitter and you may suspect that she made her decision out of spite. But as you continue – as she talks about having her reputation scandalized by rumour, being objectified and ridiculed, watching a girl get raped by her boyfriend’s best friend and being raped herself – there is an undeniable sadness and desperation, a longing to be heard and helped. In the Netflix series, her suicide is graphic, almost sickening because it seems so real. But it is in no way glamorous. In both adaptations the effect on her classmates is brutal; they are left with guilt as to their perceived part in her decision and forced to confront their own actions, which iterate the devastation felt by those left behind. It is never a pretty act.

And it is this, the controversy surrounding this story, the shame and silence of its characters, their failure to hear or see Hannah’s need, that makes this a book and series we should be watching and reading. Because Hannah’s story ends in tragedy, we need to pay more attention. Because she failed to get the help she so badly needed, we need to look deeper and listen closer. Because Hannah’s ordeal belongs to all of us – we have been her, or we are her now, or we have sensed her in the silence of someone close to us. And we need to be the person who asks “are you okay?”, and then we need to be the person who listens when the answer is “no”.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

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The more fragile the animal, the more it needs to protect itself.
So the more venom a creature has, the more we should be able to forgive that animal.
They’re the ones that need it most.
And, really, what is more fragile than a jellyfish, which doesn’t even have any bones?

Full disclosure: I was a blubbering mess by chapter two. This is such a delicate story. At the heart of it is a young girl coming to terms with not only death and navigating grief, but also the realisation that sometimes friendship tears and unravels much quicker than it can be mended.

Suzy Swanson is 12. She has not spoken a word since her former best friend, Franny, drowned. Sometimes things just happen, people say, but Suzy is logical, Suzy believes in scientific explanation and Suzy is determined to prove that Franny’s death was not a mere accident, but rather the result of a poisonous jellyfish sting.

Driven by bittersweet memories of Franny and a creeping guilt about the way in which their friendship ended, Suzy quietly begins her quest for the truth. Her plans are ambitious, a little too impossible maybe, but for Suzy they hold the hope of redemption for a terrible act and a chance at accepting a tragedy she cannot comprehend.

Suzy’s journey if one of discovery, not only of the wonderful natural world (this book is littered with absolutely fascinating facts) but also of her own world. An everyday world that Suzy slowly, and without even realising, learns to become a part of.

A world in which sometimes things do just happen, and they are heartbreaking and they are often also hopeful.