Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Unlucky number 13

The second book I finished was Thirteen Reasons Why (nicely designed on the cover as Th1rteen R3asons Why). I bought this title for my library based on the reviews because it sounded like the perfect audiobook: One of the characters is speaking to us on tape. I like any audiobook that reflects its medium so accurately.

Clay Jensen receives a package of seven cassette tapes anonymously in the mail. It takes him a little while to find the correct hardware to play the tapes, but once he starts listening he can't stop: Hannah Baker -- the girl he'd been crushing on most of the summer and school year; the girl who took too many pills just a few weeks ago -- has left him a message. A message for Clay and the other people who made her life so unbearable that she felt she had no choice but to end it. Each side of the cassettes tells the story of what one person did to her. And each person described on the cassettes will receive the package in turn so they will understand what they did to Hannah.

Now, on the surface, this sounds absolutely absurd, doesn't it? And I admit, at the beginning I was somewhat skeptical. Who's forcing these people to listen to the tapes (and mail them on)? Surely, in the scheme of high school gossip, others know about the tapes and what's on them? Why were no adults asking questions about Hannah's suicide? But soon, these questions become irrelevant, because -- like Clay -- you can't stop listening. You can't stop from moving on to the next cassette to understand what happened to Hannah. And -- most effectively in this story, I thought -- like Clay, you can't help hoping that someone is going to help Hannah, rather than harm her. But at the same time, you know that Hannah is dead, and that you are hoping in vain. It's powerful stuff.

Clay is read by a narrator I've heard a couple times already this year, Joel Johnstone. This is his best work I think (although I did like Wednesday Wars). He reads with such emotion and it all sounds completely genuine in his interpretation. His grief and loss are palpable. And Listening Library did the right thing and hired another reader for Hannah: Debra Wiseman. She, too, reads with pathos and feeling. You can so easily imagine Clay's need to hear her voice again.

Small complaint: Hannah's tapes include a conversation (that Hannah taped surreptitiously) between her and her guidance counselor. I so wish that Listening Library had sprung for a third reader. But at this point in the story, you are galloping towards the end and so the slightly stiff and amateur-sounding voice Wiseman offers for the guidance counselor is only a minor bump in the road.

I think this is probably a better audiobook than book.

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