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Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why, published
by Razor Bill/The Penguin
Group, by Jay Asher, copyright 2007. ISBN 987-1-59514-171-2. 844 word review.
Summary: When high school students Clay Jensen receives a box in he mail
containing several cassette tapes recorded by his classmate Hannah, who
committed suicide, he spends a bewildering and heartbreaking night cross-
crossing their town, listening to Hannahs voice recounting the events leading
up to her death.
Jay Asher is the author of the young adult novels The Future Of Us and Thirteen
Reasons Why. Thirteen Reasons Why, his first novel, was published in
hardcover in October 2007, going on to spend 65 weeks on the New York Times
children's hardcover bestseller list, with foreign rights into 31 countries and
750,000 copies currently in print in the US alone. Visit his blog at
www.jayasher.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter at
Is there enough to this story to create conversation between teens and others?
Absolutely, yes. That may be the novel's best feature and the main reason I
It also plays against type in that the protagonist who dies is female. It is
Hannas story that drives the tale; Clay is the character through whom it is told
although his role is in reaction to her story.
But female suicide deaths are the exception to the real life rule. Overwhelmingly among
teenagers, it is girls who attempt suicide, but just as overwhelmingly, it is the
boys who die in the attempt. So it was nice to have the focus on a female
attempt that actually demonstrated the extreme danger in the attempt.
I chose Thirteen Reasons Why because I read that pop star Selena Gomez has
signed on to play the female lead in the movie. Her popularity and participation
in the movie makes it likely that teens will pay attention to the movie, and here
I am a professional public speaker who has added "teen suicide" to my menu of
topics. If my primary audience will read and talk about the movie and book,
then I should read it, too, shouldnt I?
Principal character Hanna Baker could certainly have used some adults in her
life playing an active role. Instead, like so many youth-centered stories, movies
and television shows, she and her peers seem to be living life in a world
completely populated by teens raising themselves.
We should not be surprised. The main characters in childrens books are the
children themselves. Stories are more engaging when they center on a person
the same age as the reader. So reading intended for a young adult audience
might well focus on lives filled with other teens and where the teens make all
their own rules, own decisions, ideally to come and go at will and without any
concern for staying connected to the family. Home is where you find fresh
laundry, food and your cell phones battery charger.
Of course, in MY household growing up, I would never have dreamed of leaving
home without asking permission to go and expecting to be grilled on where,
with whom, when I would be back, was my homework done. The idea of
possibly not coming home that night was beyond the pale; my mother would
certainly have called the police and Dad would have gone door to door in his
jump suit and embarrassing rubber sandals until he found me with serious
consequences to pay. Sneak out the bedroom window at night? I had no
concept. It would have been that wrong.
Has the world changed in this way, too? Are both parents exhausted from
working all hours to the point that no one is supervising or conversing at home with
their kids? Im talking about parents, not adult roommates. Do parents not
care when their teenage children disappear like a cat who will probably come
back home when it is hungry?
Of course, if you are a teen reader, this empowering description may be your
favorite part of the story. But even if these kids were raised by wolves, you would
expect to find a mama wolf around. These teens manage to slip out the bedroom
windows at all hours, undetected, attending frequent teenage beer parties
blaring for blocks around. But are there no cops to break up parties any
longer? Don't police still haul drunken minors in and call parents to "come get
your intoxicated child at the police station?" Have parents completely
capitulated to the whining sound of everyone else is doing it?
Thirteen Reasons Why is still a reasonable story. At 250 pages it is a quick
read even for a slow reader like myself. My hesitation is that, with my
apology to the author Jay Asher who wrote for a young adult audience, the
story doesn't seem compelling enough to my adult senses. Perhaps that is just
me. I love great characters but was only moderately attracted to Clay, Hanna
and their classmates. The few adult characters a few parents, a couple of
teachers were flaccid. Perhaps thats how our children see us: weak,
marginal, disconnected, ignorant and incapable of understanding. Now there is
a conversation worth having with your child!
Perhaps this is because I was reading with a purpose - to see how he wove the
suicide warning signs into the story (and they are there), to learn how the
people in Hanna Baker's life could have stepped in to avoid her tragic decision
to kill herself. Like most stories - real life and fiction, there weren't enough
others in Hannahs life who strongly stepped in to prevent a bad decision from
Of course, that fact is common among suicides of all ages. One person falls into
the belief that no one cares, he doesnt matter to others, that the world will be
better off without him, nobody loves me, everybody hates me, that he doesnt
deserve to live and there isnt another person there to say No that isnt true. I
care. Others care. You matter. You make a difference. If that other person was
more obvious, there would be fewer suicides.