“You can’t stop the future
You can’t rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
…is to press play.” (Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why)
1. The Storytelling Device
13 Reasons Why is the story of Hannah Baker, who has just committed suicide. At the beginning of the book Clay Jensen receives a set of audio tapes with the instructions that he must listen to the tapes and then pass them on to the next person on the list. If he fails to do so, the contents of the tapes will be made public. Here Hannah tells her story as she sends her listeners on a sort of scavenger hunt to places where important, and often devastating, events in her life took place. It is a unique and compelling story telling devise. At one point Clay steals a Walkman from a friend to go on this hunt as not many people have cassette players these days. But like Clay, once you start listening (or in this case reading), you can’t stop. As Clay sits in a coffee shop late one night listening to the tapes and hearing Hannah tell what happened there, you are eerily haunted by her voice, her story, her memories. Her body lays in the grave, and yet her words are whispering a tale in your ears that at times seems so horrific in emotion it overwhelms. You want to close the book and walks away, but you simply can not. Hannah has a tale to tell and if you shut the book you do a disservice to her memory. So Clay trudges along on this heartbreaking scavenger hunt through a town that is haunted by Hannah’s suicide and as he learns what part he had to play in her death we do, too.
“I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.” (Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why)
Clay is not really a villain in this story. He is simply your typical teenage boy who has a crush from afar and doesn’t really know what to do about it. Clay’s part in this story reminds is that it is not always what we do that matters, but sometimes it is what we fail to do. Sometimes, by failing to act or by doing too little, we can cause tremendous consequences. By making Clay a likable, and relateable, character, the journey is both softer and more powerful. As the book says, “A lot of you cared, just not enough.”
3. Hannah Baker
Any one of us could be Hannah Baker. And the things that happen to her happen, sadly, far too often. There are far too many Hannah Baker’s in this world. Even I have at times been Hannah Baker, which I talk about here. It is hard not to relate to and sympathize with Hannah Baker, unless you are one of those who torment – and I hope that reading her story will change the minds of those who do. To all the Hannah Bakers in the world we say you have worth, there is hope, please get help.
4. The Topic of Bullying
Sadly, bullying is far too common of an occurrence. We hear about it in the news so often. Every time I hear that another teen has taken their life because of bullying I die a little more inside. The only way we can help stem the tide is to help teens understand what it means to walk in another person’s shoes. 13 Reasons Why does that. As you walk in the shoes of Hannah Baker you understand what it is like to watch your reputation slip away from you, to walk through a crowded hallway and feel more alone then ever. Literature has the power to open our minds and hearts and help us to examine self and the world we live in. This is one of those books that every teen needs to read and discuss and understand. As many of us say frequently in our discussion of YA literature, YA Saves.
5. Actions Have Consequences
At the heart of this story a simple truth is revealed: actions have consequences. It is not necessarily one moment in time that causes Hannah to take her own life. No, each little incident leads to another until her life spirals out of control. Each incident somehow leads to the next and a domino effect is created in the life of Hannah; at the end of the domino chain Hannah is left with the all too familiar hopeless feeling that things can never get better. There is no light at the end of her tunnel, the actions of those in her life have snuffed it out: “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.” (Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why)
6. It’s a Mystery
Although in many ways 13 Reasons Why is a stunning contemporary novel, it also is a novel filled with mystery and suspense. The reveal of why, exactly, Hannah ended up taking her own life is a slow, steady build that keeps you turning every heartbreaking page. You want to shut the book, but in the end you keep moving forward because you must. know. why. Sherman Alexie says it best in his cover blurb: “Thirteen Reasons Why is a mystery, eulogy, and ceremony. Twenty or thirty times, I snapped the book shut when a sentence, an image, or line of dialogue was too beautiful and painful. But I, afraid and curious, would always return to this amazing book. I know, in the years to come, I will often return to this book.”
7. Coming Soon to a Theater Near You
So much great YA literature is being adapted to the movie screen right now and this is one of the ones I am looking forward to. I know I am totally dating myself, but I see this as having the power to move like the works of John Hughes did in the 80s. Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club . . . I see 13 Reasons Why as having the opportunity to capture the moment and truly move and inspire.
8. Award Winning Book
13 Reasons has won multiple awards, and rightfully so. Some of the awards it has won includes:
Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA)
Quick Picks for Reluctant YA Readers (YALSA)
Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults (YALSA)
Borders Original Voices finalist
Barnes & Noble – Top 10 Best for Teens
International Reading Assoc. – Young Adults’ Choices
Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice
Book Sense Pick – Winter
Chicago Public Library Best Books
Association of Booksellers for Children – Best Books
State Awards – Winner (voted on by students): Florida, Kansas, Kentucky
9. Trans Media
If you visit the 13 Reasons Why website, there are YouTube clips where you can hear the tapes of Hannah Baker being read aloud. This takes the story to the next level and makes it more intimate. There is also a blog that discusses Hannah’s Reasons for you to check out. Plus, transmedia is all the rage right now and this is an example of it being used in a way that makes sense. Here the transmedia is effective and enhances the story. It is not just a marketing device but a content enhancer. Hearing Hannah’s eerie voice stuns. The realization that you are listening to a dead girl tale her tell sends chills down your spine.
10. The Title
Some may consider it shallow, but I love the title of this book. It definitely makes you want to pick it up and find out more. 13 Reasons Why what? I have read many a book based on the book title alone (Even a Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, etc). Like covers, titles can lure you in. They tease you. And I just think this title is effective both as a title, and as a title for THIS story.
11. The 13RW Project
The 13RW Project is a place for teens to share their thoughts and feelings about the book online. Here teens share their powerful responses to the book. All to often they share their own feelings of depression, thoughts of suicide and their experiences with bullying. They are heartbreaking stories, but they are often stories of hope as well.
12. Quotability Factor
As I read, I keep a notebook handy and write down my favorite quotes; those words that move me, that stir my soul, that make me think. One of the ways in which I judge a book is whether or not it has a high quotability factor for me. 13 Reasons Why is moving and speaks tremendous truth about the human condition. Some of my favorite quotes from 13 Reasons Why include:
“But you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore. You can’t decide to turn off the noise in your head.”
“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything.”
“A flood of emotions rushes into me. Pain and anger. Sadness and pity. But most surprising of all, hope.”
13. Discussion Guide
This is an important book on a timely topic and a definite must read for the classroom and in book clubs. To make it easier for you to use, a handy little discussion guide is provided.
A few weeks after I finished reading 13 Reasons Why, I was still caught up in my head with the power and the glory of this book when I saw a teen of my post a status on his Facebook page: “Cody, why man?” My worst fears turned out to be true; a teen who had come to my teen programming for years has committed suicide. I walked into work that day and broke down crying. As tears streamed down my face I thought of this book and how hard it is to truly know what is going on in the lives of those around us. I thought of how many Hannah Bakers there are in this world. In that moment I made a decision and decided that I was going to donate copies of 13 Reasons Why to several libraries in Cody’s memory. It was the little thing I could do to honor him and help spread the message that every life has meaning, every life has a value, and we all need to honor one another because we just don’t need anymore Hannah Bakers in this world. If you are not one of the people who have kept this book on the bestseller list for the last 2 years, then I hope you will go out and read it. And then share it with everyone you know.
“In the end….everything matters.” (Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why)
Please share in the comments how bullying or suicide has touched your life in any way. Also, please share the reasons why you love 13 Reasons Why. And above all if you need help, please tell someone in your life.