I was feeling nostalgic at the library the other day and decided to browse the youth fiction shelf and came across Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. I decided to check it out and started reading it yesterday morning and if I hadn’t gotten exhausted in the middle of the night, I would have finished it all in one day. The subject matter is extremely difficult, but also very important … especially with the rise of bullying and suicide taking place in the news over the last few years. Just yesterday I read a headline about an 11-year-old boy’s suicide attempt after he was bullied for wearing a My Little Pony backpack to school. Just horrible.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Asher’s novel deals with bullying and suicide.
Now for a short summary: Hannah Baker was a high school student and after making the school’s Hot or Not list as “Best Ass,” she’s sexually harassed and essentially treated as the male school population’s play thing. At the start of Asher’s novel, Hannah is already dead. She, like so many kids and teens who are bullied and mistreated, committed suicide. The novel isn’t from the point of view of Hannah’s bullies, instead, it’s from Hannah’s point of view.
Before deciding to end her life, Hannah records 13 tapes, each one dedicated to a specific person at her school and on the day of her suicide, she mails a box of the tapes to the first person on the first tape. Slowly, the tapes make their way to all 13 people who are, in some way, responsible for Hannah’s death. Aside from Hannah’s perspective, we also get the perspective of Clay Jensen, one of the people on the tapes. Though he can’t think of what he did to cause Hannah to want to kill herself, he goes through and listens to all 13 tapes and the reader listens along with him, hoping to find out what happened to this young girl to make her feel like she couldn’t go on.
I won’t sugar coat it, the novel was hard to read. For me personally, it might have been harder to read than for someone else because I have thought similar thoughts to the one’s Hannah describes on her tapes. No, I’ve never been sexually harassed in the way Hannah was, but I understand feeling like you’re completely alone in a room full of people who don’t understand what you’re going through. And yes, I have wanted to end my life, many times. Fortunately, I have a great group of people around me who helped me to realize that wasn’t my only option. (For more info on that, check out My Writing page).
Like I said, Thirteen Reasons Why is a difficult read, and, if you think about it, what Hannah does with the tapes is pretty selfish and almost verging on horrible since she’s pointing fingers and blaming people for her suicide and in turn forcing them to live with the knowledge that their actions killed someone. Knowing all that, Asher’s novel is extremely important and I think it will remain important until people learn to be nicer to each other. Thirteen Reasons Why isn’t just a story about suicide or why bullying is wrong, but it’s also a lesson on knowing that there are consequences to all our actions. Whether it’s what we say to another person, what we do to them, or how we treat them in public, all these actions affect that person in ways we can’t even imagine. Fueling rumors by believing them and passing them on won’t make you cooler or better or prettier or smarter, but it might just be the final straw someone needs to feel like there’s no one they can turn to.
So, moral of the story: be kind. It’s one of the best gifts you can give to another person.