Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
Reader Appeal: Teen and Young Adult
Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Contemporary
PopFam Rating: B+
When Entertainment Weekly declared that Thirteen Reason Why was literally saving teen lives, and when the announcement went out that this book had quietly sold nearly a million copies already, we at PopFam decided it was time to check out this unique YA novel about suicide.
The debut work from now-bestselling author, Jay Asher, this unique book takes the reader on a journey of introspection to explore why a high schooler might take her own life--and how everyone around her might contribute to that decision. There is blame-placing here, mostly on sexually predatory guys who'll do anything to conquer a pretty girl. Still, other people factor into that death decision as well--girlfriends who turn on each other, friends who do nothing when something should be done, and even caring counselors who simply don't try hard enough to stop the fatal deed. Is it fair to place blame in all the places it lies in this book? Probably not...but it still makes for a good, thought-provoking story.
Thirteen Reasons Why weaves an eloquent tale of Hannah Baker's journey through high school, and the reasons behind her suicide. The story is told through the perspective of Clay Jensen, a friend of Hannah's. Clay receives a box of cassette tapes, all bearing a number. When he starts to listen, he's shocked to hear the voice of his friend--and high school crush--who'd killed herself a couple weeks before.
The tapes give an eerie and detailed account of why Hannah felt suicide was her only option. There are thirteen reasons altogether, thirteen people she feels pushed her into it, and seven tapes, one side for each person, with the last side of tape seven being blank. Along with the tapes is a note stating that only the thirteen people on the tapes would receive them, so they would know why they were a part of her decision. Clay is devastated to discover that he could have played a part in her death, and listens to the tapes in hopes of discovering why.
The book fascinating--and emotionally draining--and the ending is redemptive, presenting Clay as a changed person who is intent on not letting Hannah Baker's story repeat itself in other friends. Also along the way, the author delivers some basic suicide prevention tips that readers will likely remember long after the book is done. Parents should be aware that while the story itself is engaging, it does include profanity, as well as graphic descriptions of sexual abuse, emotional dysfunction, and suicide. Younger readers may find it confusing, and the graphic content may be offensive to some, both teens and adults.
Thirteen Reasons Why may be a little raw for your teen or your family, but it's pretty easy to see why young people have connected with this book in such large numbers. I would encourage parents to read it, regardless of whether or not your kids have read it. Afterward, if appropriate, share it with your teenager and talk about it together. The discussion should be interesting...and it just might save another life.
Let’s Talk About It
If your family members are interested in this book, then encourage discussion about it afterward. You can use these questions to get started:
• What was your initial reaction after finishing this book? Explain.
• Who is to blame for Hannah's decision to end her life? Defend your answer.
• Why is it significant that the last tape is blank on one side? Explain.
• What gives you hope in life? Why?
• The one character noticeably absent from Thirteen Reasons Why is God. How might this story be different if God had been in it?
• What's the story you want people to tell about you?
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