Note: This review contains spoilers from 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough
After a foray into fantasy reading Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom (still not recovered emotionally), I returned to the familiar world of contemporary YA with 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough. I’m not going to beat around the bush – I did not enjoy this novel.
Here are some of the reasons why:
Recently, I have been thinking about contemporary YA tropes that I do not like. Three of these appear very obviously in this novel.
The first is useless parents, which I won’t go into much detail about here because I am half planning a discussion-type post looking at this issue sometime in the near future. But, of the five main female characters, four had pretty useless parents (Becca, Natasha, Jenny and Hailey). The only character who got on with their parents was Hannah, and that was treated with disdain. At one point Becca thinks ‘maybe that’s what came of being the absolutely least cool kid in school – you got to stay friends with your parents.’ Personally, I found this a really sad and untrue point of view. It felt like falling out with your parents was being glorified, as if it is an inevitable part of being a teenager/growing up. Although I understand that growing up changes our relationship with our parents, I don’t think that’s necessarily for the bad.
Secondly is the ‘the popular girl is a b*tch’ trope. In this novel, this trope is taken a little further as the popular girl is literally a psychopath/sociopath (it’s not actually cleared up that well). Even still, it just felt like an extension of a story I had read a million times before. Moving away from Natasha herself, ‘the Barbies’ just felt like such an old cliché, especially when Jenny and Hailey got arrested and two other girls stepped into their place. For me, personally, it just felt old-fashioned.
The last trope is the girls vs girls trope. I found the majority of the girls in this novel to be incredibly back-stabby (is that a word?!) and catty. You had the Barbies who as I have mentioned earlier just felt very cliché, but Becca was also far from a nice person. This was especially apparent in the way she spoke to and thought about Hannah, who ironically was the only ‘nice’ character mentioned more than briefly in the novel.
On the topic of Hannah, the novel felt really condescending towards quiet and studious people .etc. The suggestion was that being like Hannah (and being friends with Hannah)was a last resort and I just didn’t really like that. I just kept thinking, what’s the problem with being quiet and unnoticed? I know from personal experience that not everyone wants to be in the spotlight. At one point Becca also thinks that Hannah was ‘never brave enough to be p***ed off’ which again, annoyed me. Being nice is treated as a synonym for being submissive and I just think that’s untrue. Hannah deserved a lot better than what she was given by this novel.
In general, I felt the presentation of women wasn’t great in this novel. Aside from the Barbies, and Becca being mean to Hannah there are other instances where the presentation of women and girls is really stereotypical. At one point, Natasha is discussing her mum and ladies lunch group. She says
‘they laugh and joke and say how much they love each other, but as true as that might be, they still watch each other for weakness. For chinks in the armour. I don’t think boys are the same. Boys are dogs. Women are like cats. Individuals by nature. We are not pack animals.’
This opinion could be justified by the fact that Natasha is a psychopath/sociopath but because of the other instances of girl on girl hate (even really casually like when Becca’s mum says ‘like mother like daughter’ and Jenny and her mum, and Becca points out she may well just have called both of them sl*ts) it feels more like a general theme throughout the novel.
Becca’s relationship with Aidan was also problematic. There were a lot of instances where Becca pointed out that Aidan was her whole world, and that she didn’t need friends if she had Aidan, which, for me personally, is not a good thing for a teenage girl. There’s also a moment where Becca is wondering if she should feel bad for ditching Hannah but she decides it’s ok because ‘it’s not like Hannah was her boyfriend or anything.’ Not only does this continue the bad treatment of Hannah by Becca, it also begs the question: if you wouldn’t treat your boyfriend a certain way, why would you treat your friend that way?
For his part, I didn’t think Aidan was great either. True, Becca was insecure in their relationship, but he got annoyed at her for being paranoid about things that he was actually doing, which I don’t think was fair (like meeting up with Emma without telling her). Him meeting up with Natasha so soon after breaking up with Becca was also ‘d*ck move, as was breaking up with Becca at Hannah’s funeral. One of the reasons I am so frustrated with Aidan, is because the end of the novel never discloses if Becca gets back with Aidan. Although I hope that she wouldn’t, I can’t help but think perhaps she did.
Speaking of the ending of the novel, I found it very abrupt and would have liked a lot more information about what happened to characters like Becca and Jenny and Hailey. As newspaper clippings had been used throughout the novel, I think it would perhaps have been an idea to include a few more at the end outlining Natasha’s death, the discovery of her scheme and the release of Hailey and Jenny. I think that would have given slightly more closure and wrapped the novel up slightly better.
In all fairness, there was one element of the novel I did find clever, and that was the inclusion of Natasha’s diary from the therapist. With her first person account of what happened I didn’t suspect her until Becca started to, because I just didn’t consider she could/would be lying. It was pretty cool use of the unreliable narrator.
Despite this, as I have seen a couple of other reviews mention, the blurb and the tagline were a little misleading. Even though Natasha’s first person account only makes up a small section of the novel, with most being made up of a third person account of Becca, the tagline and blurb are written from Natasha’s point of view. I would guess that this is to completely distract the reader from suspecting Natasha (the tagline is ‘I was dead for 13 minutes now I want to know why’ but Natasha clearly knows that she jumped in the river) so I can understand why it was done, although it does seem odd that Becca is not mentioned at all, as she is, to all intents and purposes, the main character.
So, like I said at the top, I was not a huge fan of this novel. Sometimes it just happens.
Have you read this novel? Did you enjoy it? Please share what you thought whether you loved it or disliked it, I would love to hear what other people thought about it!
As always, happy reading!