Thirteen Reasons Why: A Messy Reflection

Trigger Warning: Discussion of suicide, depression, self harm, etc.


  1. I am not a mental health professional. This is just the musings of someone with depression and anxiety.
  2. It has recently come to my attention that Jay Asher has in the past searched his name on Twitter and harassed teenagers who didn’t like his book. That is abusive and unacceptable behavior and I do not support him and will not read any of his other books. I read Thirteen Reasons Why before I knew any of this (or perhaps before it even happened.) I would not have read the book had I known this.
  3. I do not recommend anyone read this book knowing number 2 and for other reasons I will discuss later.
  4. There will be spoilers.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a book I read a number of years ago. I was still struggling with depression, but I was at one of my more steady periods. Suicidal thoughts weren’t plaguing me and I felt a little more grounded. At that time, I loved the book. I related to Hannah. Her experience was vastly different than mine, but I found pieces of my own mental illness and I felt less alone.

At this time I also wasn’t very involved with the YA community. The way I found books was very different than how I do now. There were definitely better books out there on the topic of depression, but this is just the one I found.

In light of the Netflix series, I’ve reflected more on the book and read other people’s criticisms and can see the faults I didn’t recognize before. I’ve also done a lot more over the years to learn about my own mental illness and how it impacts others differently. I can see where the book can be damaging for others with depression. I can see where it can lead people without the experience of mental illness to believe things that aren’t true. I understand all of this, but I can’t completely let go of where the book helped me.

That’s the thing about representation of mental illness. Everyone’s experiences are so unique. Triggers are so personal. The line between helpful and harmful is at a different place for everyone. It makes it really difficult to determine where a book falls.

Here are some points I took from the book when I first read it:

  1. Not everyone’s depression looks the same, but you’re also not alone.
  2. There aren’t reasons for suicide. Hannah was already depressed. There were just things that didn’t help. Maybe the reasons I’m grasping at for my own depression aren’t actual reasons.
  3. People should be kinder to each other.
  4. Things that people without mental illness can endure can sometimes have a greater effect on people with depression. My reactions to events are different than other people’s.

Just to name a few. And with a lot of these, other people saw the OPPOSITE. That the book was saying people kill themselves for specific reasons. That it glorified suicide. And I completely see that perspective now. It just wasn’t how I saw it when I first read the book. Maybe if I had read it a different time, when my depression was at its worse, the effect would have been different.

Now I believe the book is likely to be more harmful than helpful for most people. (The television show had made up for some of the faults, and then went terribly, terribly wrong by showing the suicide. A suicide they made bloody when it wasn’t in the book. It was a mistake big enough to pretty much cancel out all the good. I enjoyed the series until then, but maybe it isn’t a coincidence I had a mental breakdown the day after marathoning the episodes.) It’s not something I’d recommend. I wouldn’t put it in the hands of a teen with depression. But what about the ones who have read it already and it helped them? What about those who could relate? I also don’t want to disparage them or make them think something is wrong with them for liking it. After all, I had found worth in it at one point.

I don’t know what the answer is here. If there even is one. Mental illness is messy and so is the representation of mental illness. Even books that take the absolute most care are going to be damaging to someone. I could write the story of my own struggle with 100% truthfulness and it could still be harmful to someone else.

That doesn’t mean the damaging aspects of Thirteen Reasons Why, as the book or Netflix series, are off the hook. It’s a problem to be discussed. I think the overall positive impact is narrow. But when it comes to mental illness as a topic as a whole, there’s a lot to be done. More careful representation needs to be out there. And when we fight to keep out things with harmful descriptions from future readers, we can’t forget the ones that have already read it. There are ones who need help because of the harm. And there are ones who found comfort, who shouldn’t be made to feel stupid.

And perhaps a little more mental health education worldwide would stop some of the jokes coming off the Netflix series that make light of suicide. Maybe if more people understood what mental illness entails, those suffering would have the help they need instead of just going to books and shows to feel less alone. 

Here are some other posts I read discussing the book/show:


2017 So Far

Phew. It’s been a while. I had a rough winter which involved being sick a lot. My reading thankfully did not suffer, but pretty much everything else did. Including this blog, obviously. Hopefully with things getting a little better and with all the reading I’m doing, I’ll get more posts in. I also have lots of spring concerts lined up so more music to come as well!

To make up for the months of no posts, here’s a brief overview of some of what I have read and listened to:

Tamora Pierce
A few friends are massive Tamora Pierce fans whereas I somehow missed her existence during my childhood. Better late than never though I suppose. I finished the Alanna series and have started on Circle of Magic. These books are such perfect little fantasies with characters I adore. Loving Pierce’s worlds and will continue to read through her work.

Graphic Novels/Comic Books
I’ve been continuing my efforts to read more comics. The March series by John Lewis is fantastic and highly recommended for everyone. Some others I enjoyed: Paper Girls, Turning Japanese, Tetris, and Boxers & Saints (by Gene Luen Yang who I got to see talk recently so that might get its own post.) I also started a few series I’ll likely talk about later.

Non-Fiction Galore
Entering this new year I read a lot of non-fiction, which was unusual for me. I tend to read non-fiction here and there, but found myself drawn to it while dealing with winter blues and whatnot. As I’m always trying to learn more about different religions, I picked up No God But God which is great for anyone wanting to learn more about Islam. Rest in Power by Trayvon Martin’s parents is heartbreaking, but provides a lot more details about his death.  I also decided to actually read from front to back one of the many coffee table books I own, Jane Austen Cover to Cover. There was also a mix of memoirs and psychology books thrown in. I hope I continue to read more non-fiction.

While I haven’t been my usual music fan self the past few months, there were still some new artists and albums added to my rotation. A fews favorites include: Half Waif, Laura Marling’s latest album, and Pinegrove’s Cardinal. I also went up to Brooklyn to see Bastille and it’s amazing how much they’ve expanded their live shows. Their new album took some time to grow on me but I’m loving Wild World now and the videos they put together for tour were incredible. Also was lucky enough to see Bear’s Den on my birthday and if you don’t listen to them yet, please change that.

This concludes my brief overview of 2017 so far. Now to come up with a reward scheme that gets me to post at LEAST once a month from now on…

Recent Reads: September-November

As I haven’t done a Recent Reads in a while, here are a few I loved in the past few months that didn’t get reviews.

28588459Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King characters Good Ol' Fun 

A. S. King is from the Philly area and she set this latest book in Philadelphia so I was automatically interested. Part of my love for this book was just being able to perfectly visualize everywhere the MC went, but King also does weird so well.

The premise of the book is 16-year-old Sarah quits school for reasons the reader isn’t fully told until towards the end. As she wanders around Philly, she runs into different younger and older versions of herself. Through Sarah’s mini adventures and conversations with her other selves, you start to get glimpses of what Sarah is dealing with. This book captures how heavy life can feel as a teenage girl. From grappling with family and school issues to simply the weight of existence. King doesn’t belittle teenage problems. Sarah trying to figure out what “art” is and who she is is just as important as everything else going on.

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2)Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo characters Wow Factor Gut Punch Page Turner I Ship It fave2 

I absolutely loved Six of Crows and was dying for the release of the second book. It was well worth the wait. I won’t say much in case you’re someone who hasn’t read the first book (go do that right now!!!) but it was a satisfying conclusion to the stories of characters I’ve grown so attached to.

Gemina (The Illuminae Files, #2)Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff Wow Factor Good Ol' Fun Page Turner

Another follow up I was anxiously waiting for. This one I actually got as an ARC from BookCon, but made myself wait until a little closer to the release. It was just as much of a rollercoaster as the first book. I didn’t love it quite as much as Illuminae, but it was still dramatic and fascinating. Time to pick up this series if you haven’t. It’s unlike anything else you’ll read. There’s still one more book and I’m ready for the conclusion.

milk and honey

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur Pretty Words Required Reading

If you’re in need of some poetry, this book is full of beautiful lines. Some of the poems are absolutely breathtaking. Kaur’s poems are deeply personable, but mirror the experiences of many women. She makes you feel love and grief and everything in between.

I also picked up a few comics and graphic novels the past few months. The latest volume of Ms. Marvel might be one of my favorites yet. The theme of her struggling to balance between her life as a superhero and daughter and student is even more central to these issues. I unfortunately do not have any superpowers myself, but juggling different aspects of one’s life is so relatable. Especially post-election when many are trying to move forward while also fighting nazis.

Monstress was recommended many times and I now know why: it has it all. Amazing art and storyline. There’s a lot of gruesome things going on all in an art deco-esque steampunk fashion.

For something a little lighter, I recently grabbed This One Summer off my shelf which has been sitting there since this summer. The art is lovely and the whole book is very lazy summer vacation days.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Release Date:  November 1, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Format: ARC
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
Ratings: I Ship It Too Cute fave2

The Basics

The Sun Is Also a Star is told in two perspectives, Natasha’s and Daniel’s. Natasha is a Jamaican immigrant who is set to be deported that night. While making one last attempt to save her family from being sent away from their home, she runs into Daniel. Daniel has an Ivy League interview he doesn’t want to go to set for later that day when he becomes curious about Natasha, who he spots swaying to music from her headphones.

The teenagers’ chance, or fated, meeting inspires poetic Daniel to convince scientific Natasha that falling in love is possible, by using an experiment he read about. This involves a list of personal questions that they both answer throughout the day. The result? You’ll have to read, but neither of them comes out of the experience unchanged.

My Thoughts

This book is massively cute, but also tackles larger issues. So if you want to get emotional, you’re going to get emotional. Adorable romance? Check. Time sensitive dilemma? Check. Contemporary societal problems? That, too.

Of course illegal immigration is one of the major problems this book represents. Natasha is facing having to leave her home and also her future behind, all because of the actions of others. And she’s determined to try to take control of her own life. Another side of immigration is shown through Daniel. His parents were Korean immigrants who left a hard life behind. So a lot of pressure is put on him and his brother. His aspirations are not in line with his parents’.

As a result, Natasha and Daniel are on opposite sides when it comes with how they view their futures. What’s in your control? Does fate exist? Their discussions lead them both to new perspectives. And that’s where this book’s magic is. Their differences are how the dynamic works. Natasha believes in the scientific method. Daniel is a dreamer and hopeless romantic. Reality falls somewhere in the middle. Their separate experiences weave together as they get to know each other and a complex portrait of simply being human comes out of it.

I loved every second of reading it. Yoon creates such vibrant characters and strays away from a generic love story. This simultaneously warmed my heart and tore it apart. It also caused me to think a lot about where I land on the fate vs. conicidence scale.


+ Realistic look at immigration
+ Exploration of racism within communities
+ Depiction of difficulties in family life
+ Cuteness

In Summary

This book is cute, but goes beyond just cuteness. Romantic moments will warm your heart, but it goes beyond that. Immigration, racism, fate, and love are all other areas Yoon’s story delves into. It’s a must read. While you’re at it, read Yoon’s debut Everything, Everything if you haven’t already.


Whether coincidence or fate, I decided to clean out my Pocket list and came across an article from January 2015 about the study this book references (and uses.) I have no recollection of saving it, but rediscovered it at the right time. It’s worth reading. Perhaps after you read The Sun Is Also a Star.

Note: An advanced copy of this book was provided free by the publisher for review consideration. This in no way influenced my opinion.

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
Release Date:  October 11, 2016
Publisher: Amulet Books
Format: e-arc
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Ratings: characters badass 

The Basics
Ada and Corinne are hemopaths, meaning they have the power to create illusions with art. Ada, with a violin, and Corinne, with poetry. In 1919 Boston, it’s of course illegal to create these illusions and the two girls participate in underground shows at Iron Cast where they entertain patrons with their illusions. They also sometimes use their gift to con some of the less deserving members of society out of some money, under the guidance of Iron Cast owner and gangster, Johnny Dervish.

Naturally, things start to go awry. Boston has a force to capture hemopaths to take to an asylum that is supposedly there to help the “afflicted.” While Ada and Corinne try to avoid being locked up, there are deaths and disappearances and a lot more going on that threatens the life they made for themselves.

My Thoughts
First and foremost, I adore the friendship between Ada and Corinne. Which shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve read any of my other reviews talking about female friendships. What I love about Iron Cast in particular is how distinctive their characters are. Because they are both main characters, there’s an exploration of both their backgrounds and their personalities. Soria does perfectly at showing how their friendship works, from its strengths to its faults. Descriptions of how in sync they are and how they work as partners in their craft as well as their lives, build up the power of their relationship.

Their friendship is also an interracial one, Ada is black and Corinne is white. Ada is working to support her family while Corinne is working to escape hers. While friendships found between those from extremely different economical backgrounds is common in stories, the way it is handled is not. Neither girl is a complete stereotype and racism isn’t ignored. It’s weaved throughout the story as it would be in real life. Corinne also isn’t a Good White Girl who has never been guilty of racism. It’s acknowledged that she had to learn. There’s a lot happening throughout the story, so none of this is a huge focus, but it’s there as it should be. Fantastical things are going on, but the reality of race in 1919 isn’t overlooked.

Outside of our reality, is the ability that both friends have to create illusions. I love how it works and the conflict behind people having these powers. I won’t go into detail about how this all comes into play so you can discover that all on your own, but there’s fun and suspense tied into it all. Some of the twists and turns are easily spotted as the plot hits some of the typical markers when it comes to “illegal powers” in stories, but the story still manages to hold its own.

+female friendships being the focus forever
+the uniqueness of the powers
+diversity done well
+layers to the mystery
-takes a little to get into the gut of the story because of the explanation of how the the fantasy functions
-some of the plot falls into the typical cliches (but recovers)

In Summary
Ada and Corinne’s relationship is what shines for me. Their characters are well developed and they are wonderfully devoted friends. Once the book reaches further into the conflict, the story is packed with drama. As the two girls use their abilities to navigate through a dangerous historical Boston, suspense (and a little horror) drive the plot to its conclusion.

Note: An advanced copy of this book was provided free by the publisher for review consideration. This in no way influenced my opinion.