I’ve been seeing a lot of mixed reviews about how Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why breathed new life into the material presented on Jay Asher’s bestselling novel. If you haven't read the book yet, I highly suggest you do, because while the series remained faithful to the book's storyline, the experience of reading it was definitely something else.
While widely praised for its harrowing portrayal of teenage suicide, many readers thought that both the book and the show glamorized depression and encouraged self-harming. Hannah Baker’s narrative painted a vivid picture of a conflicted, emotionally challenged teenager, and weaved a tale of causalities in a voice that a lot of older readers thought was whiny. But for what it’s worth, I’d say that the book—and the series—succeeded in creating a much-needed discussion about sensitive topics such as suicide, bullying, rape culture, and sexual harassment.
If you liked 13 Reasons Why because of its thought-provoking storyline, here are five other books I think you should definitely add to your TRL (To-Read List).
What it’s about: Cath is having a hard time in college because her twin sister Wren (nope, we’re not making this up) is starting a brand new life without her.
Why you should read it: Do not be fooled by the cutesy drawing and the pretty mint green cover because this book is anything but comfy—especially if you, or anyone who’s dear to you, have an anxiety disorder. The book takes readers into the mind of someone who’s suffering from major social anxiety while dealing with puberty in a new environment. Although parts of the book attempted to explain what it’s like to be a fangirl, I’d say that it’s more of a coming-of-age tale that will remind you of the importance of finding your passion, being open to love, and keeping your family close without undermining your personal growth.
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
What it’s about: Charlie is a wallflower and now that he’s a freshman in high school, he’s starting to learn a lot about growing up so he writes letters to an unknown character detailing his adventures and feelings.
Why you should read it: Charlie reminded me so much of Hannah Baker because, just like her, he’s having a really hard time navigating through adolescence. The book also garnered mixed reviews for its portrayal of serious issues like suicide, death, rape, homosexuality, drugs, and child molestation. Despite its dark themes, it still managed to impart heart-wrenching life lessons like the importance of self-acceptance and finding good friends.
3. Hate List by Jennifer Brown
What it’s about: Valerie is left to cope with the repercussions of a school shooting that started with a hate list she made with her boyfriend.
Why you should read it: Many of those who have read the book thought Valerie was a lot like Hannah in that they both sounded very entitled and whiny, and I agree. But I also believe that the voice helped the book achieve the one thing it was made for—to make you feel exactly what it’s like to be so consumed by hate. Jennifer Brown’s debut novel tackled bullying, teen angst, and violence in such a real way—you might experience a few sleepless nights.
What it’s about: Ezra Faulkner used to be the popular jock, but after he gets into an accident with a reckless driver, he’s reduced to sitting with the misfits in the cafeteria.
Why you should read it: What I love about Robyn Schneider’s protagonist is that he’s a smartass. Also, it goes against the usual teen movie: Jocks are supposed to be more athletic than academic, more snarky than witty, but ex-jock Ezra begs to differ. He’s one of those teens who simply can’t stand being talked down to. Although critiqued for its shallow character development (a lot of readers thought the character—much like Hannah Baker—was immature, selfish, and emotionally crippled) the book is filled with lots of really good #QOTD material that will make you rethink the way you live your life.
5. Paper Towns by John Green
What it’s about: When popular girl Margo Roth Spiegelman suddenly disappears from school and from home, Quentin Jacobson takes it upon himself to follow the clues she left behind and find her
Why you should read it: Okay, it’s hard to pin this as a realistic YA novel but it's a pretty good read if you’re into mysterious plots and characters. Much like Hannah, Margo Roth Spiegelman ran away from all her problems and left Q a set of clues so he can figure everything out for himself. It frustrated a lot of readers in the sense that you’ll have to finish the entire book to know just what the girl is up to, but by the end of it, at least you’ll be left with enough existential thoughts to fill up a blog post and that’s where John Green succeeded the most, IMO.
Bonus: Veronica Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho
What it’s about: Pretty Slovenian girl Veronica is done with life, so one night, she decides to overdose on sleeping pills and write a letter to a newspaper that published an article she manages to read in her dying hours. But she doesn’t die. Instead, she wakes up in a mental hospital.
Why you should read it: This isn’t a YA book, but if you want something more hopeful than 13 Reasons Why, then this is a novel you'll surely enjoy. Paulo Coelho has always been an introspective writer, and you’ll see it very clearly as you read, from the way he writes sensitive issues such as suicide and mental health, to how he creates such a despicable character you'll end up sympathizing with. Pro tip: Keep your tissues near your bedside.
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