Despite what people may have heard or read this book doesn’t encourage teenage suicide nor does it romanticise the idea of suicide. I can’t speak for the popular Netflix series inspired by this book, simply because I haven’t watched it.
It’s important to bear in mind that teenage brains aren’t fully developed until they reach a certain age in adulthood. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain, which isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. This is why a teen is more likely to make rash, illogical, dangerous and impulsive decisions. Everything is overly dramatic and every slight is the end of the world as we know it.
In the mind of teenager every insult, imagined or real, is a reason to make a decision you can’t just undo.
The reader meets Hannah after she has made the decision to end her life. After she has convinced herself that there is no other way out of her situation other than killing herself.
Ultimately in the midst of all the drama and overhyped teenage interactions Asher is trying to deliver an important message. When someone reaches the end of their tether, and leans towards jumping off the nearest cliff, they will send out subconscious signals. The signals are there for us to see, hear and read, we just need to acknowledge them. Instead of ignoring the changes in behaviour, appearance or the almost indiscernible cries for help, we need to open our eyes and try to help.
The story starts with Clay Jensen receiving a box full of tapes, a spoken testimonial from a dead girl. A girl he knew, a girl he kissed, and a young girl who somehow thinks he belongs on a list of people who pushed her towards suicide. He has to deal with the emotional upheaval caused by this unexpected accusation and the experiences Hannah has been through. Clay also has to deal with the fact he will eventually come face to face with the other people on the list. The people who ignored her, turned her away, ridiculed and assaulted her.
Suicide brings an element of desperation with it, but also one of selfishness. Suicidal thoughts are all encompassing, especially when depression is part and parcel of the equation. There is no room for thoughts of what those left behind will have to deal with. The why, the who and the fact they didn’t see it coming and couldn’t stop it. Even when there is light at the end of the tunnel Hannah is already so enveloped by her own darkness that she chooses self destructive behaviour instead of choosing a path other than death.
I could go on and on about this book. It isn’t just a straightforward ‘everyone was mean to Hannah and that’s why she is dead’ scenario. Hannah isn’t exempt from criticism. She makes mistakes and some dodgy choices, especially in regards to Jessica and Bryce.
Hopefully this read will make someone reconsider their actions and behaviour towards their fellow humans. Teens really need to take on board that actions have consequences, rumours ruin lives, bullying is destructive and suicide is a one-way ticket with no return.