I just finished reading Thirteen Reason Why by Jay Asher. What a heavy book! I have known a few families who were struck with the tragedy of suicide. In most cases, there was no suicide note…let alone an exact account as to what lead to the decision. Just a word of caution, if you haven’t read the book, please know there are spoilers all throughout this post. So, maybe save the reading for when you finish the book.
Even though I doubted someone would leave such detailed tapes, I was captivated by them. I think it is a testament to a writer’s ability when the reader knows exactly where the story leads, but still follows. This was a lot like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. He told me the end a few pages into the intro and I still cried when it finally happened.
I didn’t cry with Thirteen Reasons Why, but I was mesmerized nonetheless. The ingenious of this story was the pairing of “narrators.” There was the girl’s depiction. She, of course, was the victim. Therefore, every story was demonized. She had hate for most of these people. She blamed them for causing this conclusion to her life. On her own, this would be the typical “bully” novel. I get tired of news programs and such explaining a tragedy with the simple “bully” word. In real life, bullying is real. In real life, bullying is damaging. And, in real life, bullying is not simple.
If Asher had picked any of the other twelve people Hannah blamed, the impact would have been too diverse. Their perspective would be tainted by what they had done. But he picked Clay. This provided a reliable counter to Hannah’s account. He sympathized with her. He cried for her struggles. But he also saw her part in the isolation and ultimate destruction. She made the choice not to reach out…not really.
The closest she came to telling someone came with an encounter with a teacher. With me being in the profession, I actually cringed when the scene began. “Not another teacher-bashing scene,” I thought. Yet, even that was spoken with such truth. She never actually said what she was going through. Teaching high school, I know how difficult it is to judge teenage emotions. Everything is so high and important it’s hard to gage if they don’t open up.
There are no easy answers in this book. Are the kids to blame? Yes. Could Hannah have done more to get help? Probably. Should people have noticed more? Yes. Was that hard to do? Yes. Regardless of who is to blame, is it a tragedy? Absolutely.
Life is complex. People are complex. No one knows where others are coming from. No one completely knows other people. One of the greatest thoughts in this novel is that we don’t know what impact our actions have on others. That is something to ingrain in ourselves and our youths.
This book is not the happy book of summer. But it covers a topic that is too common, and it does so with class and intellect.