Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Thirteen Reasons Why" by Jay Asher

Summary: Clay Jensen is still reeling from the suicide of a classmate, Hannah Baker, when he receives a mysterious package filled with cassette tapes.  When he begins listening, he realizes the tapes were made by Hannah before she died--and on them, she will detail the the thirteen people who participated in the chain of events leading up to her decision to kill herself.  Clay barely knew Hannah, though he liked her, and now he must agonizingly learn about the role he played in Hannah's brief life.

Musings: This book had come highly recommended by students, and I was finally able to read it when a student allowed me to borrow it.  I'm glad I had the opportunity because Thirteen Reasons Why is a smart book that would be appealing to teenagers while also sending a clear message about the impact we have on others' lives.

Thirteen Reasons is also a mystery, for as Clay and the reader listen to Hannah's tapes, we slowly learn how Hannah reached a point in which suicide seemed to be her best option.  Asher alternates Hannah's recordings with Clay's reactions, which allows for a full view of the events.  Hannah has been treated terribly by many of her classmates, but she also has faults herself.  She pushes away people who want to help and purposely allows herself to be dragged into situations she know will only increase her sense of isolation.  In this way, Asher highlights the difficulties of addressing depression.  People like Hannah desperately want someone to notice, but they also resist attempts to help.

Hannah's story highlights the ways in which seemingly "small" actions can have a large effect on another person.  This is an especially important message in high school, where students often retreat behind the excuse of "I didn't mean it" or "it wasn't a big deal."  They justify bullying, harassment, and assault as small, meaningless incidents.  Although I've never contemplated suicide, I did experience some of the feelings Hannah did early in college.  Having lost many of my high school friends by the time I graduated, I was determined to be outgoing and make friends in college.  Yet I found myself rebuffed in small, but continual, ways.  Fairly soon I saw myself as incapable of making friends, and, in self-defense, simply assumed people did not want to be friends with me.  I rejected them without giving them a chance.  I'm sure not one of the people who initially rejected me remembers doing so, but even now I can clearly see and relive each moment.

Thirteen Reasons Why is an excellent book for its intended audience, though I think at that age especially many people are more willing to accept hurtful behavior in others rather than themselves. 

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