Graceling and Thirteen Reasons Why

Have you ever read a book and thought, “That’s what I’m trying to accomplish with my writing.” I can’t recall how many times I’ve felt this way after reading a book, but I can name two times in recent memory: reading Kristin Cashore’s Graceling (which I’ve already mentioned in a previous post) and reading Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, both YA (young adult) novels.

I can’t remember how I came across Graceling, but I think it might have been by reading Calico Reaction’s review. Graceling has a medieval-ish fantasy setting and is the story of Katsa, a young woman with a “grace” or special talent. Her grace is to kill, and her uncle, the king, forces her to be his thug by sending her against his enemies. The story follows Katsa as she rebels against her uncle and undertakes an epic journey to save the kingdoms from an evil graceling much more powerful than she. Thought-provoking questions about power, its use and abuse, pervade the story, as does the adolescent’s search for identity. Katsa must discover the true nature of her grace and make a decision on how she is going to use it. Of course, as with most good YA, there’s also a compelling love story.

I do remember how Thirteen Reasons Why came to my attention. My grad school program requires all members to read a common book for each residency. One term, the book chosen was Thirteen Reasons Why. Although I didn’t attend that particular residency, the book sounded intriguing, and I decided to pick it up. Thirteen Reasons Why is set in modern day (and is mainstream, not fantasy) and follows Clay Jensen, a high school student whose classmate, Hannah Baker, committed suicide only weeks before. He comes home one day to find a set of audiotapes in a box. He quickly learns that the tapes were recorded by Hannah before she died and are her account of the thirteen reasons why she committed suicide. Clay has received the tapes because his name is in them.

Thirteen Reasons Why is told from Clay’s point of view, but his thoughts and actions as he listens to the tapes are interwoven with Hannah’s narrative. The story is heart-wrenching, and by the end the message is abundantly clearpeople need to think about their actions and need to work on performing kindnesses because you never know how another person might be suffering. Clay, a boy most parents would love to call “son,” is a good character to illustrate the message.

As far as my writing goes, I consider both of these books inspirations. Graceling is a YA book, but it’s tone is more straight fantasy than YA and the hefty questions of power are not typical YA fodder, so it was my inspiration for the very difficult task of completing my revision of Wishstone for a YA audience. Thirteen Reasons Why gave me some confidence that I can write a novel set in modern day. Since my first novel is set in outer space thousands of years in the future and my second novel is set in ancient Greece thousands of years in the past, I was doubting I had the skills to pull off modern day YA. I didn’t think a character I would enjoy spending a novel writing would appeal to a YA audience. Sometimes I feel YA characters in books are portrayed as the adults who write YA tend to see them, rather than how they are. I’m frequently dismayed by how YA characters in other media are portrayed as caricatures. Clay Jensen, however, is a thoughtful character who, I feel, has all the appropriate reactions to what he hears on Hannah’s tapes. He felt much more real to me than any YA character I’ve encountered in a long time.

Moral of the story: my current project is a YA fantasy set in modern day. I’m sure there’ll be updates . . .


4 Responses to “Graceling and Thirteen Reasons Why”

  1. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the companion novel to Graceling, which is called Fire. I finally got around to reading it this year! And I’ve got my hands on an advanced reader’s copy of Jay Asher’s next project, The Future of Us, which I’m looking forward to.

    I can’t remember, but have you read any of Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series? Because if not, you are TOTALLY missing out.

    Another YA series I’d think you’d enjoy is from your mentor, Harris, under her pen name Pearl North: Libyrinth is the first and The Boy from Ilysies is the second.

    And yes, I’ve had that feeling when reading books. Karin Lowachee’s Warchild is still the most vivid to date. Lately, I’ve read books that didn’t excite me so much as make me wish I’d read them back when I was working on my thesis project, because I would’ve embraced them better at the time, like Nancy Kress’s Beggars In Spain.

  2. Jen says:

    I read Fire at Christmastime and liked it a lot. I don’t know if I liked it better than Graceling or not, but I do think it felt a little more sophisticated. I had been frustrated in Graceling by the backstory chapter practically at the story’s outset and the long travel section that made it obvious to me what the ending had to be (and I agree with your review that the climactic scene was so fast as to be a little anti-climactic). Despite these things, I loved Graceling, but I didn’t feel like Fire had any of these pacing issues, so it felt more mature to me, I guess.

    I have read the first book in Megan Whalen Turner’s series. Liked it a lot. I feel it’s targeted to a slightly younger audience than Graceling. Of course I’ve read Libyrinth, and I’m actually right in the middle of The Boy from Ilysies. I should be done in a few days (it takes me so long to get through a book because life only lets me read a chapter or two a night).

    And Karin Lowachee’s Warchild . . . I really, really, really liked that book.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on Jay Asher’s new book!

    • What’s funny about Turner is that the rest of the series doesn’t remotely have the same tone at all. In the second book, The Queen of Attolia, she starts using a very slippery omniscient third that she doesn’t quite have a handle on, but by time she gets to the third book, The King of Attolia, she’s figured it out, and by then, I’d forgiven her for the jarring differences and surprises that came from expecting The Queen of Attolia to be similar to The Thief. I read the fourth book, A Conspiracy of Kings this past month, and I’m officially in love with the series. You have to read more! :)


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