Thirteen Reasons Why


Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Razorbill. 2007. 288 pages.

June 2012 Official Choice; selected by Alfonso
Overall yabc_la rating: 2.85 STARS

Tags:  suicide, high school, contemporary

Summary:  Shortly after Hannah Baker’s suicide, Clay Jensen finds a box with his name on it. In the box are tapes recorded by Hannah. She explains the thirteen reasons why she committed suicide–and Clay is one of them. As he listens, he’ll discover why he and twelve other people made the list.

Our thoughts:
Because of the delicate subject matter, we will not be posting a transcript of our discussion. What we can say is that many of us have experienced similar situations (either with close friends or family), so the subject of suicide is far from a foreign concept.  This is probably the reason for our overall low rating–though, this is not to say that all of us rated it below average.  Many of us felt that the target audience for Thirteen Reasons Why was to potential bullies and classmates of potential suicide attempters.  And we feel that the execution of the topic was lacking in some way, disconnecting us from the characters. The teen voice does not feel realistic and the “reasons why” are presented too much like a list rather than a series of a declining connection to life; in fact, Hannah’s connection to life and her passionate anger feels inconsistent to her careful creation of the tapes.

Would we recommend this to a teen? Despite our low ratings, most of us agree that we would still recommend it, but only in conjunction with another novel with a stronger message toward the person thinking about suicide.  Yes, we do agree that Thirteen brings a perspective usually not explored in suicide novels: the idea that a popular and accepted person from a supportive family can still be subjected to bullying, and the view from an observer and how one could help prevent suicide.

Novels about suicide, our recommendations

‘night, Mother by Marsha Norman
Jessie asks for her father’s service revolver and calmly announces that she intends to kill herself. Her mother refuses to take her seriously, but as Jessie sets about tidying the house and making lists of things to be looked after, her sense of desperate helplessness begins to build.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The safest place to be is alone, inside her own head. But even that’s not safe.

Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers
Nobody would have guessed she’d turn out like this. But nobody knows the truth.  Something horrible has happened, and it just might be her fault.

Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks as Anonymous
Read her diary. Enter her world. You will never forget her.For thirty-five years, the acclaimed, bestselling first-person account of a teenage girl’s harrowing decent into the nightmarish world of drugs has left an indelible mark on generations of teen readers.

How To Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
From bestselling author Natalie Standiford, an amazing, touching story of two friends navigating the dark waters of their senior year.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
A painful read (like After), tackling issues of child and sexual abuse. Sparse, streaming language captures the thoughts and feelings of a girl in captivity. It makes for a blunt sort of poetry, and a firm, if disturbing, understanding.–Alethea

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Not necessarily a novel about suicide, but definitely worth reading in conjunction with the others.  This is a haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating.

VOYA Magazine June 2012 issue has a great article about suicide fiction called “Elements of Hope in Suicide Novels” by April Pavis. One of the titles Pavis recommends is Thirteen Reasons Why; although many of us did not enjoy Thirteen as an adult reader, we would recommend the title to teens in conjunction with another from our list.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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