Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher [Book Review]

Thirteen Reasons Why.jpgTitle : Thirteen Reasons Why

Author : Jay Asher

ISBN : 9781595147882

Publisher : Razorbill

Genre : Young Adult/ Contemporary

Pages : 336

Source : Self

Rating : 2 Stars

 

 

Unless you wish to pluck your hair out of frustration, end up with more questions and have their the pet-peeve bone tickled rather incessantly, keep away from this.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a book based on the suicide of one Hannah Baker. It revolves around the 13 reasons why she ended up committing suicide, the reasons which are made selectively public via tapes that she recorded before her death and ensured would get passed around to the 13 involved parties.

Characterisation

Well, it only says 13 people on the cover, but in reality you only get to know about 2. There’s Hannah who you wouldn’t connect to because there’s nothing told of her that would ever enable such a feeling. From the beginning of the book she’s just off rattling plot devices (aka the 12 of the 13 reasons) who’ve done nothing but anguish her (not really, they’ve all put her through such torment/minor inconveniences only once each). I use ‘anguish’ very lightly here. Even the narrator, Clay, couldn’t convince me enough to like Hannah as a person. She just seemed to rise from her grave, so to speak, to put her tormentors on trial. Further, the very attitude of Hannah’s (in actually sitting down recording the tapes, classifying the reasons into categories, making maps) speaks of clarity and doesn’t make the suicidal side of hers very believable. It’s tragic, but totally not believable.

The narrator, aka Clay Jensen, is equally bad. The narrator of a book is meant to be observant and paint an overall picture of the scenario because he is the reader’s only input into things. If an author can’t do this then the entire book fails. This here is a textbook example. Clay is so into his grief after Hannah’s suicide and angry at himself over his inability to ‘see the signs’ and save her that it’s turned into the only view he has on anything happening around him. This gets annoying real fast.

The remaining ‘support’ characters just appear to be plot devices, but nowhere to be seen as people. They’re there for the sole purpose of furthering the decision of Hannah’s suicide. They’re so two-dimensional that I can’t even recollect their names. They have nothing to offer to the book except being the catalyst that they are designed to be. There is no explanation for why they were being such jerks to Hannah. What Hannah describes is to be taken at face value, because why would a dying girl lie? Well, a dying girl might not lie but that still doesn’t give me a whole picture. People aren’t jerks for the heck of it, it’s motivated by something and this is lost to the reader.

Liked

I found it novel in the idea of using tapes in place of a suicide note with tiny ‘play’ ‘pause’ and ‘stop’ buttons denoting what the narrator was doing with the tapes. It was also pretty neat to feature a double perspective on things happening – As Hannah speaks, the narrator reacts to it making it appear very natural with the listener reacting to whatever he’s hearing. This however ended up getting pretty difficult when I was trying to speed-read the book because the difference was only in the way of font style (italics for Hannah, normal for the narrator) and I ended up confusing it pretty soon.

This book seems intended to be around one premise of how words can hurt others, how they snowball into something unimaginable and unintended – this tying in with the bullying Hannah faced. However, a lot of people who’ve rated it on a positive note seem to think that this book talks of depression and mental illnesses (because of the suicide involved). If we could remove that one misconception – this book does NOT talk of or deal with mental illnesses or depression – then I think it instantly turns into a slightly better book.

Didn’t like

The first thing I noticed reading through was the acute lack of struggle, of showing that it was Hannah’s last option to commit suicide. Reading through her reasons didn’t convince me that suicide was the only way out (this here is very subjective, but my rational mind can’t agree that she was forced to undergo anything suicide-provoking. It’s a grey area, I know). The book, for me, seemed to say that whenever things don’t seem to get better, suicide becomes a very rational option for people to take even if these problems are resolvable.

Personally I think that the reason this book exists is because she didn’t bother trying. Now it might sound harsh but my question is this: who thinks of suicide as their first and only resort? Had she seen what could be worked out (like getting away from negative influences, telling her parents), or tried getting to know a few more peers a few of who would be willing to give her a chance despite her ‘reputation’, or tried indicating that she needed help, and despite all these attempts nothing in her life changed, then the decision to commit suicide seems sensible.

She also does not bother understanding what consequences her tapes would have on the ones left behind. It’s as selfish as the act of her suicide itself is. This brings me to a related issue – Clay has done nothing to be named on the tapes. He’s only named there because for the story to make complete sense (according to Hannah) he had to be named. So he’s the golden egg amidst the rotten ones. The problem with this is that because of this, the book doesn’t reflect on how the ‘offenders’ have changed their ways upon understanding the consequences to their actions (because our narrator never does anything wrong!). This, I find, would be a significant detail for the readers to know.

Finally, the very fact that all 13 of her reasons are put on the same level of blame is pretty infuriating. For instance, being molested and stalked is equated to having her poetry stolen and being slapped by a girl out of jealousy. Further, some of her reasons make no sense at all – one of which is that she was in a car with a drunk driver when the car knocks over a stop sign that leads to an accident later that ends up killing a person. Why this ends up being a reason for her suicide, I’ve no idea.

Finally

To sum it, I would say that this book could have been so much more but ends with a lot being desired, On the other hand, this book has a great potential as a discussion starter (be it the reasons why, or the emotions Hannah must have felt or Clay’s dealing with the aftermath of losing Hannah and so on) which is needed and should be the goal an author writing a book along these lines should aim for.

Review by Mitra Somanchi

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: Thirteen Reasons Why

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne [Book Review]

The Boy in the striped pajamas.jpgTitle : The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Author : John Boyne

ISBN : 9780385751063

Publisher : David Fickling Books

Genre : Historical Fiction

Pages : 224

Source : Self

Rating : 3 Stars

The ending is heart-breaking!

The story revolves around a 9-year-old boy, Bruno, his 12-year-old sister Gretel, his mom who’s a housewife and his dad who’s a commandant in the German army. The book is set in 1940’s Germany.

I enjoyed reading the book, though the author’s attempt to show the main lead, Bruno, as an innocent kid has kind of resulted in a few flaws.

One-time read.!

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller [Book Review]

Notes on a Scandal.jpgTitle : Notes on a Scandal

Author : Zoe Heller

ISBN : 9780141029061

Publisher : Penguin UK

Genre : Nonfiction

Pages : 256

Source : Self

Rating : 4 Stars

Been wanting to read this book for a very long time.! Notes on a Scandal is a heart-wrenching read.

The story revolves around one Miss Sheba, who has an illicit affair with one of her pupils in the school she works in. The Book is narrated by her friend Barbara, a middle-aged woman who befriends Sheba after she joins the school.

I like how in the story ‘relationships’ are handled delicately, as they should be. How sometimes, people in relationships take things for granted, how they don’t realise what they have until they lose it and pay the price for it. The story also talks about ‘betrayal’ of friendship.

The story had a rather sad ending and makes you wish things had turned out differently. A lot of “coulda shoulda and woulda”.

It also touches certain topics like ‘loneliness’, ‘sexual frustration’ and ‘jealousy’. Which have been subtly incorporated in the narration by the author.

All in all, Notes on a Scandal is a really good read but has a rather sad ending and makes you wish things had turned out differently.

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: Notes on a Scandal

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Jerusalem by Guy Delisle [Book Review]

Jerusalem.jpg
Jerusalem by Guy Delisle

Title :  Jerusalem

Author : Guy Delisle

ISBN : 9782756025698

Publisher : RHUK

Genre : Nonfiction, Geopolitics & International Relations, Graphic Novels

Pages : 336

Source : Self

Rating : 4 stars

 

Guy Delisle is a famous graphic travelogue artist and after covering Burma (Myanmar), North Korea and China, the ancient city of Jerusalem is his latest project. He visits Jerusalem with his girlfriend (who is working for Doctors without borders) and children and has written an enriching account of the daily humdrum of lives in the mystical city that stands at the crossroads of three Abrahamic religion- Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The tone of this graphic novel is curious and humorous and though the author doesn’t go in detail to explain each sight that he experiences, he has done a commendable job in articulating the diverse manifestations of the city and his people. The author was permanently living in East Jerusalem (Part of Palestine) so it’s obvious that his views and descriptions might sound a bit pro-Palestinian but he has also tried to present the viewpoint of Jewish settlers in the city. He meets Arabs, anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jews, orthodox Jews who hate Arabs, modern Jews in Tel Aviv who hate all religious fanatics and even the Samaritans. For someone like me, who was completely unaware of Jewish traditions and customs, the book was an eye-opener and very informative.

The book also serves as a “Guide” to the famous religious sites (for different sects) and gives a little bit of historical and cultural details about them). In the backdrop of all this, the author never forgets to portray the sad reality of war and segregation that is taking place right since Israelis came here to settle down in the “promised land”

One aspect where the author must improve is coherence. At many points, I felt that a story/anecdote was left abruptly while the author moves on to describe another incident. Nevertheless, I am intrigued enough to read his other works on Burma and North Korea.

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

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India vs Pakistan by Husain Haqqani [Book Review]

India vs Pakistan.jpg
India vs Pakistan by Husain Haqqani

Title : India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?

Author : Hasain Haqqani

ISBN : 9788193237250

Publisher : Juggernaut

Genre : Geopolitics & International Relations

Pages : 200

Source : Self

Rating : 5 stars

 

 

 

The only reason I picked this book was it being written by a Pakistani and I wanted to read a perspective from the other side of the border. It turned out that the author is not just a Pakistani, but a former Pakistani ambassador to the US and has held several high-ranking positions including as adviser to three former Pakistani prime ministers. Nevertheless, I was still expecting a biased version with distorted facts and figures (after all what can you expect from the bureaucrat of a country that has distorted the reporting of its own history!), but I was completely taken by surprise that how profoundly and maturely Mr. Haqqani has pin pointed all reasons as to why “India and Pakistan can’t be friends
In this short but whistle blower account, Haqqani clearly describes how Pakistani Mullah+Military camaraderie is not only terrorizing India but their own country and how the civilian government has been completely paraplegic to contain that. The author has tried to dive deep in the issue and has discussed the sentiments of the governments, military and civilian population of each country towards the other and correlates it with the various historical milestones that have perpetuated the current scenario. The book discusses Pakistan‘s faulty foreign policy and mistrust towards India, its tacit approval to irregular warfare (read terrorism), the gradual Islamization of the country and frankly compares the current attributes of both the countries that were ‘born together’

To cut it short, the book is a completely ‘honest and blunt‘ account (I might not be surprised if it is being banned in Pakistan for obvious reasons) and is a good choice to pick up if you want some hands-on, quick insights about the concerned scenario.

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?

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Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah [Book Review]

Chinese Cinderella.jpg
Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

Title : Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter

Author : Adeline Yen Mah

ISBN : 9780440228653

Publisher : Puffin

Genre : Memoir

Pages : 252

Source : Self

Rating : 5 stars

 

 

 

Chinese Cinderella is one of those books that prove that you can write a simple memoir with uncomplicated words and sentence formation but can still move the reader and touch the chords of his/her heart because the story itself is immensely heartbreaking which is only complemented by a brisk and smooth narration.

Chinese Cinderella” is a memoir written by Adeline Yen Mah, whose mother dies after she is born and her entire childhood is eclipsed by the unfair treatments subjected to her by the hands of her stepmother and father. I understand that there are a lot of negative reviews on Goodreads for this book- many find it “whiny” and “pretentious” for during those turbulent years in China, Adeline had at least a house, education in good schools and always had access to regular meals. I understand that there are many Chinese who have had much worse conditions. Having said that, this book is more about the emotional upheavals of a girl child who is being felt “unwanted”, not only by her stepmother but also by her own father and brothers, rather than being financially deficient.

Along with her story, Adeline has tried her best to include snippets of China’s political happenings of the time to make the reader feel more connected and informed. My favorite chapter is the one where Adeline’s Ye Ye (Grandfather) makes her realize the importance & uniqueness of the Chinese language. Reading this chapter is like a first-hand guide towards the language- you will understand how Chinese is not a phonetic language but a pictorial one and how one can read Chinese fluently still not be able to speak it!

At the end of the book you will also be surprised to know that the actual Cinderella story that we all know has been derived from a much older Chinese folklore. A wonderfully narrated memoir, sure to touch your heart!

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: Chinese Cinderella

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The Sellout by Paul Beatty [Book Review]

the-sellout
The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Title : The Sellout

Author : Paul Beatty

ISBN : 9781786070173

Publisher : Pan Macmillan India

Genre : Contemporary

Pages : 289

Source : Self

Rating : 2 stars

 

 

Man Booker Prize for Fiction is considered as the Grammy of Literature and I am in no position to judge the authenticity and importance of this prize. But since last two years, the books that are getting this prize are difficult, unimaginative and a “distant” reads to me.

Coming to “The Sellout“, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2016, the multiple online & offline reviews claim it to be a “lacerating satire“. I did understand the overall plot and the broadly imbibed the message & satire that the author wanted to portray, but the reason of low rating is that I couldn’t understand most of the cultural references a way an American would have understood. The narration is in first person and the author digresses every now and then to strike a “lacerating satire” on racism and segregation through pop culture references and I only wished I could understand, if not relate to them.

The Prologue of the book only introduces the reader to its crazy & absurd theme- A black man is being tried in the Supreme Court of USA for slavery & racial segregation! The rest of the story continues in flashback. There is narrator’s father who is a controversial socialist with equally controversial ways of social & personal (on his own son) experiments, Hominy, who seeks pleasure in being enslaved, and the Hispanic town of Dickens where they have all lived since beginning but now the town has lost its name & identity.

The narrator’s father is shot dead by police during a feud. Dickens has been wiped out from the map and children at the local school are turning into goons and according to the narrator, the only way that these two issues can be solved is through racial segregation- making apartheid like separation modules in schools and different areas for Whites & Non Whites in Dickens.

The theme of the book is no doubt bold & brave. It has been more than 50 years of Martin Luther’s revolution but the race is still a burning issue in the States and combining racism with subtle and explicit satire is no wonder an extremely meticulous task by Beatty.

I would love to re-read this book someday when I am a better read person, when I am better aware of the historical and political fabric that clouds the horrendous evil of racism in United States.

Buy yourself a copy of the book here: The Sellout

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