This year I’ve been featuring one of my favorite books on the last Friday of every month, telling you why it’s one of my favorites. You can find the full list of my favorite books here. April’s featured book is Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
This is a hard book to read. It’s about a young girl, Hannah, who committed suicide. But before she died, she recorded thirteen cassette tapes, one for each of the reasons she killed herself. Each of these tapes features a person who affected her life and what they did to make her want to kill herself. Hannah blames these thirteen people for her suicide—for what they did, and didn’t, do to make her want to kill herself. And we get to hear these tapes through the perspective of Clay, a boy who really liked Hannah and thought he was always nice to her, but who is one of the thirteen reasons. We hear Clay’s commentary throughout the book as he listens through all thirteen tapes in one night.
As Hannah tells her story, she shows how the things that happened to her had a snowball effect, getting bigger and bigger, and that once the ball got rolling it was almost impossible to stop. She recounts multiple instances of rumors being spread about her and also tells about unwanted advances from boys that were results of those rumors. She talks about how every time she tried to get close to someone she ended up hurt. All of these smaller instances add up quickly until everything becomes unbearable for Hannah.
This is not a happy book. We know from the start that Hannah killed herself, which makes this story rather depressing. Though at the end we do get to see that Clay has changed for the better after listening to Hannah’s tapes.
This book is amazing for so may reasons. First of all, the structure of the book is just incredible. I love Asher’s idea of having Hannah tell her story with cassette tapes. It is so unique, and it’s really interesting getting to watch as Clay listens to the tapes—how her voice affects him and the fact that it’s audio rather than something written making it feel “live.” I love that we get to follow good-guy Clay, knowing that somehow he’s one of Hannah’s reasons but also knowing he’s a pretty good person because of what we learn through his narration. The way Asher sets this up leaves you on the edge of your seat wondering how Clay fits in to the story. The book is written like a suspense novel, which keeps you turning pages. And it takes place over one night, which keeps the book tight and fast-paced.
It’s also fantastic that Asher chose to tackle such a tough topic in Thirteen Reasons Why. Teen suicide is a really important and big issue, and this book does the perfect job of showing how seemingly small incidents can lead someone to want to kill themselves. Hannah shows how one thing leads to another, and how when they just keep adding up it becomes almost impossible to keep your head up and keep going. Starting a rumor about someone, taking away encouraging notes, not staying and talking to someone who needs you—all of these things add up quickly. Asher does a great job showing why Hannah wants to kill herself, allowing the reader to really understand why someone would want to commit suicide, and also showing the missteps Hannah took in trying to find help and stop herself.
I highly recommend this book because it opens up a dialog about a topic that people don’t want to talk about. In the interview printed at the end of my copy of the book, Asher says that he wrote the book as a suspense novel in order to get people thinking about the characters rather than the issues themselves to make it easier for people to read the book. Suicide is hard to talk about, and it’s especially hard for the people who are considering it to talk about. Books like Thirteen Reasons Why are wonderful and necessary because they provide a way for people to see outside there own situations and open up about difficult topics.
I chose to read Thirteen Reasons Why this month because I am working on a new book that is also about teen suicide. I read this book again to remind myself of the skill Asher used in writing about this topic, and to get ideas on how I can write about it myself. I hope that my book can also help open up a dialog about this difficult topic.