Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher

Bibliographic Information:

Asher, J. (2008). Th1rteen R3asons Why. New York, NY: Razorbill.  ISBN: 159514188X.  336 pages.

Asher, J. (2008). Th1rteen R3asons Why (unabridged audio book). Wiseman, D. & Johnstone, J. (Readers). New York, NY: Listening Library.  ISBN: 073935650X.

Plot Summary: When Clay Jenkins comes home to find a package that was mailed to him with no return address he is instantly curious.  When he opens the package to find 13 cassette tapes recorded by his classmate Hannah Baker, his mind starts to race.  Hannah recently committed suicide, and the cassette tapes list the thirteen reasons why she did it.  Clay is one of the thirteen reasons, which confuses him, as he does not know what he might have done to contribute to her taking her life.  Clay must listen to the tapes if he wants to know more, and part of him does not want to know more.  But, part of him feels compelled, for himself and for Hannah, to listen to the tapes and hear the words she intended for him and the others who got the box the box before him and who would get the box after him.

So, he started listening.  And once Clay started listening to the tapes he kept listening.  Hanna’s words directed him on a zigzagging tour across their home town where he stood and listened in the places where significant things happened to Hannah.

Critical Evaluation: Dramatic and moving, Th1rteen R3asons Why brings readers into the depths of the mind of a girl who commits suicide BEFORE she commits suicide.  Often, in the case of suicide, survivors are left with dozens of questions about why a person might have taken her/his own life.  What those around her could have done to prevent it.  Survivors also often feel guilt that they might have done something to cause the suicide or that they did not do enough to prevent it.  Hannah Baker takes the control herself by recording cassette tapes prior to her suicide that answer many of the questions people who knew her asked.  And the answers were not easy to hear.  This book has an honesty and authenticity that is likely to create empathy in its readers.  There is no one in the book who is blameless, even Hannah, and that is not the point.  The point is that life, and death, are complicated.  We all have a responsibility to stand up for what is right and speak for those who may not be able to at that moment.  There is a strong and powerful message in this compelling and disturbing story.

The book’s text switches between Hannah’s voice on the cassette tapes (in italics) and Clay’s thoughts.  This is an especially good option for listening to the audio book, because listening to Hannah on the audio book parallels Clay’s listening to Hannah’s cassette tapes.  The audio book is well acted, with sincerity and feeling.

Th1rteen R3asons Why was highly praised by critics and was honored several times.  In 2008 YALSA named Th1rteen R3asons Why on the following lists: Best Books for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers,  Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults.  

Reader’s Annotation: When Clay Jenkins finds a package with cassette tapes in it he is stunned to find that they were recorded by Hannah Baker, a classmate of his who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

Information about the Author: Th1rteen R3asons Why was Jay Asher’s first published novel, and what a debut.  His most recent novel, The Future of Us, with Carolyn Mackler, was released November 21, 2011.

Here is the entire biography of Jay Asher from the Th1rteen R3asons Why website

JAY ASHER has worked at an independent bookstore, an outlet bookstore, a chain bookstore, and two public libraries. He hopes, someday, to work for a used bookstore. When he is not writing, Jay plays guitar and goes camping.

Thirteen Reasons Why is his first published novel. (Asher, n.d.)

The Th1rteen R3asons Why website is a place for an ongoing dialogue about the book.  It also provides suicide prevention resources.

Genre: Issues

Category: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Mental, Emotional, Behavioral Problems

Curriculum Ties: Suicide

Booktalking Ideas:

  • If your classmate committed suicide and you were somehow involved in her decision, would you want to know why?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

Challenge Issues: Suicide.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors.

Why is this book included? Based on recommendations from YALSA lists I listened to the audio book of Th1rteen R3asons Why.  While it was very intense, it also feels very important.

References:

Asher, J. (n.d.) Thirteen Reasons Why: The Author.  Retrieved from http://www.thirteenreasonswhy.com/author.php