Thirteen Reasons Why Review

Thirteen+Reasons+Why+Review

Gilana Levavi ('14)/Eastside editorial assistant

 

Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is a story about teen suicide, a topic that sounds disturbing and depressing, like something we do not want to think about. And the novel is deeply painful. At times, I wanted to shut the book because of its sadness, and I pleaded with the characters to act differently. Yet, Thirteen Reasons Why is also deeply meaningful, deeply inspirational.

The idea “Everything affects…everything,” spoken by Hannah Baker, the girl who commits suicide, drives the novel. Hannah’s decision is not abrupt. Instead, countless seemingly small incidents caused by many of her peers have a “snowball effect,” abrading first Hannah’s reputation, then her privacy, self-esteem and finally her life.

When Clay, the novel’s protagonist, opens a mysterious package that he finds on his doorstep, his existence is changed forever. Inside, he finds the seven cassette tapes on which Hannah has recorded thirteen reasons why she chose to end her life. Each of the thirteen reasons centers on one person, who will receive the tapes and is instructed to listen and then pass them on to the next person on the list. Each “reason” has also received a map of the town where the novel takes place, marked with significant locations mentioned throughout Hannah’s story.

The reader experiences Hannah’s story through the ears, eyes and mind of Clay. This unique format allows two stories to happen at once: Hannah’s story, heard through the cassette tapes, and Clay’s story, as he follows Hannah’s map and reacts to her words.

The novel is fast-paced, surprisingly suspenseful, despite that Hannah’s decision to commit suicide has been made and revealed to the reader from the very beginning of the story. It is well-written and highly relatable.

At times the novel can be a tad difficult to follow, especially when racing through the pages to find out what happens next. Because there are many different characters, one can easily confuse them. However, it is not so confusing that any of the overall meaning is lost, and on a second reading or skimming, things become clearer and some interesting nuances, that may have been missed the first time, show through.

Thirteen Reasons Why should be a required reading for every teen. Because so much of the novel takes place within a school setting and because it presents countless important issues to be discussed in an open forum, this novel should be incorporated into all middle school or high school curricula.

Because of the prevalence of teen suicide in Cherry Hill, a required suicide education curriculum was developed, and every Cherry Hill student has a suicide prevention class in eighth grade. I found the class meaningful and pertinent, and my classmates and I had some serious and insightful discussions. My peers’ response to the topic of suicide was definitely more mature than in Hannah’s peer communications class, where the students acted annoyed and angry at the topic, and refused to discuss it without specifics of which one of their classmates was considering suicide.

However, the Cherry Hill suicide curriculum is driven by statistics, of how many teens commit suicide, of common reasons for suicide, etc. What is missing is a personal, individual story. Thirteen Reasons Why provides this perspective, giving unique insight that cannot be gained in any other way. It shows what is going through a victim’s mind as they decide to commit suicide. It shows the effects of the suicide on the surrounding community. Thirteen Reasons Why also makes students more aware of warning signs of suicide.

Tony, a classmate who Clay meets along his journey through town recalls how Hannah gave her bike to him shortly before she died.

“ ‘But it was a sign,’ ” says Tony. “ ‘And I missed it.’ ” Seeing how easily Hannah’s warning signs and cries for help went unnoticed, ignored or discredited makes the reader more keenly observant of his or her peers.

And most importantly, Thirteen Reasons Why makes readers more keenly aware of the power of every action they take and every word they speak. An expertly-crafted novel, Thirteen Reason Why leaves readers inspired and empowered to make significant, positive differences in the lives of their peers and in their own lives. Since “everything affects everything,” even the smallest positive actions can make monumental change.

 

To view other readers’ reactions, visit www.13RWProject.com. Also, feel free to share your own thoughts in a comment, below.