By: Jay Asher
You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret… is to press play.
Clay Jensen, the main character, who is a high school student, returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. He curiously opens the package and discovers that there are a total of seven cassette tapes and thirteen stories. On the first tape, Hannah—Clay’s classmate and crush who recently committed suicide—tells her listeners that she holds each of them responsible in some way for her death, and that the tapes will explain why. After listening, each person must give the tapes to the next person on the list. She says that if anybody fails to pass them along, a copy of the recordings will be made public. The tapes also come with a map that listeners are meant to physically follow as they listen to her story. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah’s voice as his guide. As a first hand witness to Hannah’s pain, he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town. What Clay discovers changes his life forever. Themes dealt with in the novel include guilt, blame, respect, love, and betrayal. Author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and mysterious story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives.
Suicide is the major topic in this novel. By touching teens who are suicidal and depressed, Jay Asher inspires people through motivational themes to prevent teen suicide from happening. The novel starts a conversation about a controversial topic that many of us may face at some point in our lives. In one of her tapes, Hannah complains, “a thorough discussion [of suicide] did not being in our class” (9.227). The novel argues that honest dialogue about suicide can help prevent it by providing empathy for those who are suicidal. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the US in 2007, and was the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24. Thirteen Reasons Why allows us to face the grim reality and hopefully advocates for a change.
Although this novel has attracted controversy from some, including mental health professionals, over its several graphic depiction of issues such as suicide and rape, I totally recommend this book for people ages fifteen or above. The reason for the age restriction is because the book contains vulgar language and sexual scenes. However, this novel raises awareness about bullying, sexual assault, suicide, and other mental health issues. Hannah also uses a very unique method of conveying her emotions and getting the attention of her peers. We can see things from her perspective through her audiotapes, which allowed her narrative to sound more real and compelling. All in all, this novel consists of mystery, adventure, and excitement. I am sure that this book will leave you with chills long after you have finished reading.
This novel undoubtedly had a profound impact on a significant number of teens, bringing up important issues that should be addressed. These were some of the reasons this novel was so powerful for me. I hope you will take some time to read this novel and let its message sink in.
By: Joy T.