Th1rteen R3asons Why, by Jay Asher, Penguin (2006)
Ages 12+, 288 pgs Hardback, YA ASH in catalog
I am not a big fan of depressing books about serious subjects. And the reasons are many, but mainly, I read to escape into the pages of a story that transport me to somewhere new and different (hence my preference for Sci-Fi and Fantasy). But every so often a book so impacts me that while I probably will never, ever read it again, I will never forget it. Thirteen Reasons did not make me angry like The Giver, and like Diary of Ann Frank, there is something compelling about listening to a dead girl talk about her life. Thirteen Reasons did make me profoundly sad and if Mr. Asher had not included the suicide hotline as well as some warning signs for suicide I probably would not recommend this book.
First let me be clear, if you suspect someone is acting like Hannah or you yourself feel trapped, tell a trusted adult, a police officer, a physician, someone because depression is not something you muscle though on your own. 1-800-SUICIDE and www.hopeline.com, are 24 hour hotlines available free to anyone. Another problem, the guidance councilor who told Hannah to move on should have called 911 as soon as Hannah said she felt like everything was over. I don’t want any teenager to think that a teacher (let alone a councilor) would ignore a plea for help, but if you do find yourself being ignored, please keep asking until you do get help.
This is a book about Hannah Baker, and the thirteen reasons why she felt the need to commit suicide, or more precisely, the thirteen people who Hannah believes contributes to her decision. This book is told through cassette tapes mailed in succession to thirteen different people who learn their parts in Hannah’s descent into deep depressions and finally suicide. It is also a story about how casual, cruel remarks affect people, and that even little lies can grow into monsters with a life beyond control of the original lier.
The carefully written story follows Clay Jenson as he listens to Hannah’s narration on 7 cassette tapes and follows her though her story from happy teenager to isolation to dead. It is written as a bit of a mystery novel, and the chain of events that leads to its inevitable conclusion. It is hard to get attached to the characters because what did these thirteen people do to get put on Hannah’s list of thirteen? And Hannah herself is not terribly sympathetic because she_is_dead.
This was an easy read, but difficult to get through. I do not like crying when reading, and towards the end just like Clay’s character you just want to yell at Hannah “Call 911, get help! Life is so much more than this!”. And in the end, does anyone who committed a series of horrendous crimes get punished? And where are her parents? We don’t find out. This is all about one girl’s struggle in her own head and why she felt she had no out other than to kill herself.
So this is not a book that I can rate in stars because: Did I like this book? No.
Do I think this book should be read and discussed by teachers and teenagers? Yes.
Would I like being a teenager and reading this book as part of a class? No.
But would it make me think? Yes.
There you are. It is in the Winston Library and it is available for Nook / Kindle, and audio book on a number of retailers. Mr. Asher’s website about his book is a great resource for discussion questions and additional material including haunting videos of a tape playing parts of Hannah’s story: http://www.thirteenreasonswhy.com