Hannah Baker did the unthinkable — she committed suicide. However, she did not leave behind an ordinary note. Instead, she created cassette tapes with 13 numbered sides. Each side starred a different person in her life and narrated the role each played in her tragic decision. One by one, they received the tapes in an unmarked package with these instructions: listen to the tapes, follow a map to sites described on the tapes, and then mail the tapes to the next person who follows in the narrative. Failure to follow the rules would result, they were told, in a second set of tapes being released to the public. No one wanted those tapes made public.
Two weeks after Hannah’s untimely death, Clay Jenson receives those tapes. At first, he is unable to understand why his name even appears on the list. Many on the tape were guilty of spreading rumors, outright malicious acts, and sometimes just being oblivious, but what is Clay’s crime? The reader will listen along with Clay with a growing sense of horror. Then we find ourselves asking, “Could we be guilty of the same thing?”
For the most part, I liked the double narrative format – the text alternates between Hannah’s monologue and Clay’s reactions as he listens to the tapes. I felt like I was “listening” to the tapes with him. I could understand his growing sense of horror at the role he may have played. I understood his sense of powerlessness; it’s like watching a train wreck and knowing nothing you do can change the outcome.
However, there were times when I found the “dialogue” between Clay and Hannah to be problematic. Hannah’s part appears in italics, but if I read too fast it was easy to confuse Clay’s voice with Hannah’s. This occasionally created confusion and even slowed my reading pace. For a struggling reader, this may be an obstacle to enjoying the story.
The power of this book lies in how readers may re-examine their own actions in relationship to others. First, it is easy to connect to the characters in the story, because they are real, and they are believable. For some, this connection may be uncomfortable because they come face to face with their own thoughtless actions. Though many students who bully and harass others will continue to make excuses and shift the blame, there may be some who see the true damage they are inflicting. That is the hope this book leaves us.
The other lesson is played out in the magnitude of Clay’s sin. He turns out to be guilty of nothing more than not trying hard enough to reach out to Hannah. She even tells him, “Clay, honey, your name does not belong on this list… But you need to be here if I’m going to tell my story.” So, why is he on the list? He’s there because his sin is the most common of all, the one we are all guilty of from time to time. Certainly, left me thinking about the people in my life.
Recommendations for Thirteen Reasons Why
1. Ages 15 and up. Though I think younger students would enjoy Thirteen Reasons Why, the sexual content makes it an inappropriate choice for them.
2. Great discussion group for students who have histories as bullies or issues with suicide.
3. Thirteen Reasons Why is more likely to appeal to girls though the protagonist is male.
Parental Guide Available: For a full listing of objectionable content, please visit my website, plscholl-freelance.com. Note: the guide is not intended as a censoring tool, but only as a guide to aid you in discussing the content with your teen or students.
Thirteen Reasons Why