I picked up this book after hearing everyone talk about the television show (which I still haven’t seen). The Wikipedia entry promised that this would be dark and it wasn’t lying. It’s nowhere close to Gone Girl but I’d say Gone Girl’s Amy may have been something like this book’s Hannah Baker when she was younger.
The things that happen to Hannah expose the brutal gendered violence and hostility meted out to women all over the world, even in privileged groups like white urban America. Slut-shaming, fuckboy manipulation, bullying, stalking, harassment, rape…all of these find graphic mention in the story. These are important issues that do not get addressed enough and worse, are invalidated by even the legal systems across nations.
The blurb already tells you about the dead girl’s suicide note via cassette tapes. There is a whiny, accusatory tone throughout, which I suppose stays true to this being a diary entry style confessional about a suicidal (now dead) teenager. There is a very specific point where Hannah’s narrative goes from shocked victim to mentally unstable. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing since it seems to indicate that depression could be caused by external events rather than being an illness of its own kind.
It’s not very clear why Clay is part of this story at all, given there’s absolutely no foreshadowing or indication that she even knows of his existence. Similarly, Tony is a bit too deus ex machina. All the characters other than Hannah and Clay appear one-dimensional. I’m not sure that this is a deliberate attempt to establish an unreliable narrator. It just seems like poor characterisation. Even given the first person narrative, it’s interspersed with enough of Clay’s point of view to balance out the other characters. The book does not do this.
I guess in sum, I’d say this book could have been better but considering there isn’t one mainstream one addressing these issues among teenagers in an easy-to-read way, this is as good as it gets. It’s quite readable.