I have to admit, prior to this year, I was pretty much a snob when it came to reading YA books. I read the Hunger Games and thought it was so terrible that there couldn’t possibly be any YA literature out there that would impress me. Then I found “The Fault In Our Stars”, which blew me away. I got another recommendation in 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Again, I was not let down.
The book is told from the perspective of Clay, who receives a box of old-school cassette tapes in the mail from Hannah, who has recently killed herself. She explains in the first tape, that each person who is receiving the tapes had a role in her decision to kill herself. She insists the tapes be passed on. There is a second set of tapes that she has entrusted to a person who will send them out into the world if the thirteen people don’t pass the tapes along.
When I said this book is told from Clay’s perspective, that is only half right. It’s also Hannah’s story. Her tapes are “played” for us. We follow Clay as he listens to each tape and tries to discover what he did to belong on the list.
I’m not going to say any more about the plot. After I finished the book, I read some of the reviews on Goodreads. The negative reviews seemed to be focused on the opinion the book “glorifies” suicide. I thought quite the opposite was true. I thought it was an honest portrayal of suicide from the victim and survivor’s points of view.
I remember struggling greatly with depression when I was in high school. Outwardly, you would never know that I was thinking like Hannah does. I was a master at hiding my true feelings. In a lot of ways, I still am. I think that 13 Reasons Why shows that sometimes we miss the signals. We see the clues but don’t recognize them for what they are.
This book also deals with aftermath. After listening to the tapes, Clay’s perspective of the other students mentioned changes. He rages against the malice that was shown to Hannah. He marvels at the things he was not aware of. Clay is the good kid. Studies hard, has a job, doesn’t party, stays out of trouble. Even good kids are affected by suicide.
I gave this book to my son to read in the hope that he will. And in doing so, he will understand that you may feel alone, but you only are if you allow yourself to be. I want him to be one of the decent people. Not the jock who takes advantage of the drunk girl. Which I’m confident he will not be. But I want to keep reminding him how one’s actions have an impact on other people. I think this book is an example of that much, much more than a glorification of suicide.