In my English Methods class this recently finished semester (yay!), my professor mentioned this YA novel. Apparently there is this cool book get-together every year in Kansas that’s specifically for middle school and high school students. The high school students read Jay Asher’s Th1rteen R3asons Why this year, and they even had the opportunity to discuss the book with Mr. Asher.
He mentioned this for two reasons: 1) to encourage us to keep our eyes and ears open for neat book events such as this that we can take our future students to and 2) as an introduction for a class discussion over teaching controversial books. Because of this, I spent some of my birthday money on this book, and I finally had time to read it.
Summary (courtesy of the inside cover–I’m horrible at summarizing)
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his proch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a first-hand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself–a truth he never wanted to face.
To begin, this novel is written in a very intriguing manner. The fact that you are following Hannah’s story by “listening” to cassette tapes makes the story very personal. It’s kind of like a semi-modern diary? Unlike a diary, you also get to experience Clay’s reaction to listening to the tapes. The two simultaneous narratives meld together in a way that increases the suspense and emotionality of the novel. Instead of hearing Hannah’s cassette entry and then reading about Clay’s reaction, they coincide, which makes the novel flow smoothly and makes it easier for you to get sucked into the story.
The story forces readers to take a good look at themselves, especially high schoolers, because you realize how a small event has “the snowball effect” and can completely destroy a person. Asher’s presentation of the issue of suicide is completely neutral. He never condemns or absolves Hannah’s action: he just presents the facts to force people to be aware of their actions.
I am personally a strong believer in teaching the darker realities of life in a school setting, and I think this novel does just that–in a tactful manner.
As a side note, the stop and play buttons within the text are a nice visual touch.