The story of Hannah Baker's short life will stick with you for a long time. Told in Hannah's own voice as if recorded on thirteen sides of cassette tapes and counterbalanced by the thoughts and perspective of her classmate Clay Jensen, Thirteen Reasons Why is sometimes almost painful to read. If you've been to high school, you should be able to relate to the book on some level.
In short, Hannah Baker, high school senior, commits suicide, but not before laying out her reasons and placing blame. What makes the book so difficult is that not everyone whom Hannah blames was purposefully mean. Sure, there were some jerks, but some of the culprits were simply clueless or shy or too unsure of themselves to do much to help out a friend.
Asher drives home the idea that one's words and actions have consequences—sometimes far beyond what could be anticipated. Although I believe we must take responsibility for our actions and that one is never too young to learn that lesson, I wonder how teenagers might react to this book. Would it be frightening to think that you could be a genuinely nice person and still be able to play a role in the tragic death of a young girl?
I'm also struck by the fact that Hannah's parents seem to have left her on her own quite a bit. They go out of town leaving her by herself in the house; they let her house-sit alone for a neighbor. What effect did the parents have on their daughter and her downward spiral? Did they talk to her? Hannah hides typical teenage activities from her parents, and this is normal. But I think most kids would tell their parents about several of the situations in which Hannah found herself. Why wasn't Hannah able to seek help from her mother and father? And why weren't her parents highlighted on her blame list?
The book emphasizes some of the signs of impending suicide, and I would like to think that at least one reader might learn enough from the novel to help someone in need.
The voices of the teenagers seemed real enough to me that I was immersed in the world of the town of Crestmont, and the map printed on the back side of the book cover added to this effect. I was pleased that not every parent and adult in the story was neglectful and that not every kid was mean and selfish. But high school can be a psychological nightmare, and Asher doesn't back away from that reality.
I both listened to and read the book. The novel was well suited to a double-narrator production. Debra Wiseman read Hannah's tapes and Joel Johnstone read the part of Clay. Each created a believable, emotional teenager. I think the impact of the story was heighten by listening to the "tapes" in the same manner in which Clay would have been listening. The writing and concepts, however, were better suited to print. The combination worked well for me.
Published by Penguin Group (USA), 2007
Challenges: A-Z Author, Support Your Library, Young Adult, 999, New Author, Audiobook, Spring Reading, 100+
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