“I hope you're ready, because I'm about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you're listening to these tapes, you're one of the reasons why.”
It has been a few years since I've read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I read it during my very first long-term sub job after college when one of my struggling students recommended it (at the time, I was ready to read anything that I thought would get those kids reading). On that read, I remember flying through it and being incredibly emotional by the time I finished. I liked it and found it to be a pretty amazing little book.
Flash forward to a couple of months ago, when our media specialist and I sat down to invent a new book project for my sophomores. We both wanted something to encourage a little more interaction and competition, so we came up with a big group project and a list of 15 books for groups to pick to read and promote. Among many others, we placed Thirteen Reasons Why on the list (and a group in all three of my classes picked it. The only other book with as many kids reading it is The Compound).
As the kids started reading, both of us decided we needed to reread some of the books that were a little fuzzy in our memories. Part of our competition is a quiz bowl at the end, so we really needed to brush up on some of the titles. I elected to reread this one, as I already had a copy sitting on my shelf, and since I've read two other YA titles in the last few weeks revolving around suicide, I was already into the topic (those two titles are My Heart and Other Black Holes and All the Bright Places). I didn't end up picking this up to read until Friday night, but much like my first read, I flew right through it, completely absorbed with the story.
For those unfamiliar with the title, it is a dual narrative. Most of the story is told from Clay's perspective. He comes home from school to find a shoebox on his front porch. Inside are a series of cassette tapes, and on each one, Hannah Baker narrates the 13 reasons why she decided to commit suicide just a few weeks prior. Clay is obviously shocked to hear her voice, as he had feelings for Hannah prior to her death, but he listens.
The story follows Clay through a long night as he listens to the tapes and travels around the town to the places that Hannah mentions. Hannah's narrative interweaves with Clay's and as readers, we get to feel his reactions right along her narrative. By the end of the night, Clay has heard all of Hannah's reasons and passes the tapes on to the next person on her list.
On this second read, I definitely found more to critique. Part of that is due to the other books I mentioned. Both are fairly new releases, and while I loved one more than the other, they also cover this same topic, and in what I find to be a much more believable way as an adult.
I think that is really the difference here. Reading this, I can see both the teen and adult perspectives. It's no wonder that many teens find this narrative compelling-after all, some of the reasons Hannah mentions are things that happen every day in a teen's life. Some other reviews on Goodreads point out that some of the reasons aren't really reasons at all, but merely incidents that Hannah later dwells on. Whether or not that is true...well, we don't get that into Hannah's head. However, there is one incident/reason that I need to dwell on, and while it's not fully spoilery, I'm giving you my warning here.
One of Hannah's reasons is a teacher in her building. In probably what was the most emotional part of the book for me to read, Clay listens as Hannah converses with her teacher and tries to explain what's going on. In many ways, Hannah is testing her teacher to see how much he cares and whether he can decipher the clues she is giving him. This scene bothers me for more than one reason. First, as a teacher, I take what my students tell me very seriously, especially if they are coming to confide in me. If it is something serious, we are bound by law to report it. Obviously, that doesn't happen in Hannah's case. Second, the teacher in question was also assigned to the role of guidance counselor, seemingly without training, etc. As an adult who works in a school, I know that our counselors are privy to some incredibly private information and sensitive topics. But they are trained to handle those things. That inconsistency bothered me. Third....it felt so much like a trap. And almost like an excuse for Hannah. It's the one reason I had a hard time believing this second read. And it bothered me more than any of the others (and many are also very serious in topic).
However, that being said, I think this is a great book for teenagers and adults alike. It does give some perspective into the minds of those battling depression and suicide. I also think it ends with a sense of hope, and of course, the lesson that as people, we need to understand that everyone is going through something.
It's a popular title for good reason. It's a fast read, a bit of a thriller, and keeps you on your toes as you follow Clay and Hannah. It's certainly a book I'm glad we gave as part of our list of titles to read.
“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.”