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.
Category: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Mental, Emotional, Behavioral Problems
Curriculum Ties: Suicide
- 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.
Asher, J. (n.d.) Thirteen Reasons Why: The Author. Retrieved from http://www.thirteenreasonswhy.com/author.php
Plot Summary: Sam Jones loves to skate, that’s “skate” using a skateboard, in case you are not familiar with the term. His idol is Tony Hawk, shortened by Sam to T. H. Sam has a poster of T. H. on the wall of his bedroom and often speaks to T. H., asking for life advice. Here is how Sam tells it, “I talk to Tony Hawk, and Tony Hawk talks back,” (Hornby, 2007, p. 4). Sam’s home life is stable, his parents are divorced, and he is being raised by a single mother, who had him when she was 16. Sam is now 15 years old and has the youngest mother of all of his peers. Sam’s greatest passion is skating, which he does whenever he can fit in the time for it. And then, he meets Alicia Burns. Alicia is beautiful and funny and she and Sam fall head over heels in love. They want to spend every possible moment together, mostly in Alicia’s bedroom. Their relationship becomes sexual and intense and then something happens, and it changes, and Sam no longer wants to see Alicia every possible moment of every day. In fact, he does not think he wants to date her at all anymore. He is confused about his feelings, and while he is trying to sort them out, he gets the news: Alicia is pregnant. This sends Sam right to his advisor, T. H., who seems to send Sam – SLAM! – on a journey into the future complete with visions of himself, Alicia, and their baby. What is happening? Can he get back to the present? Does he want to?
Critical Evaluation: Slam is written in the first person from the perspective of Sam. Sam’s honest voice, through Hornby, comes across as a confused, insecure, and, mostly likable, 15 year old boy. Sam’s language and thoughts feel authentic for someone who is not quite yet an adult but is dealing with very adult circumstances. The path of the novel is interesting, as it takes a twist from realistic fiction to science fiction with the element of time travel woven into the story. At first, I found the time travel surprising and wondered if Sam was going to wake up and we would realize it had all been a dream, but then it seemed the time travel was really happening and it was up to Sam to figure out why he was being given this glimpse into his future. Sam assumed Tony Hawk was sending him into the future to teach him something, though that thing was not always obvious. This book contains a lot of humor. Sam’s dry wit and sarcasm will make readers smile and, possibly, chuckle. And Sam’s eye rolling-annoyance, at certain things adults say, feels just like what a teen would do. The text is accessible, and, as it is written from a boy’s perspective might be a great choice for male reluctant readers.
Reader’s Annotation: When 15-year-old Sam finds out he is going to be a father his life trajectory takes him into unchartered territory.
Information about the Author: British Writer, Nick Hornby has written other popular novels including Fever Pitch, About a Boy, High Fidelity, A Long way Down and How to Be Good. Fever Pitch, About a Boy, and High Fidelity, were all made into films (Hornby, n.d.). Though many of his novels would be interesting to young adults, Slam is Hornby’s only novel geared to young adults.
Hornby is very interested in music, and music often plays a significant role in his novels. For example , Sam and Alicia’s baby is named Rufus, because Rufus Wainwright’s music was playing in the delivery room. Hornby collaborates and performs with the rock band Marah (Nick Hornby, n.d.)
Genre: Issues, Science Fiction
Category: Issues: Pregnancy and Teen Parents; Science Fiction: Time Travel
Curriculum Ties: English and Health
- What if you spoke to a poster of your idol and he spoke back?
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19
Challenge Issues: Premarital Sex, Teen Sex, Sexuality, Teen Pregnancy. In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies. Also, there are several positive reviews of the book.
Why is this book included? I was familiar with Hornby from the book and movie About a Boy, and I wanted to see what he could do in his young adult novel.
Nick Hornby. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Hornby
Hornby, N. (n.d.) Nick Hornby: Biography. Retrieved from http://www.penguin.co.uk/static/cs/uk/0/minisites/nickhornby/aboutnick/index.html
Plot Summary: At the end of the summer before her freshman year in high school, Melinda Sordino and her friend Rachel attended a party. At that party, Melinda called 911. This resulted in the party breaking up, some students being arrested and Melinda’s social status going to zero. Her friends abandoned her. People she did not even know hated her. It was pretty much the worst way to start high school. And then something strange started to happen. Melinda’s throat seems to always be sore, her lips are badly chapped and she is often unable to speak, “It’s like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis,” (Anderson, 1999, p. 51). Something is wrong, but when her parents try to ask her about it, Melinda cannot seem to get the words out. Soon she is almost completely alone, preferring to spend time in an abandoned janitor’s closet than her classes at school. Can she ever get out of her isolation and depression? What happened, and will she ever SPEAK?
Critical Evaluation: Moving and intense, Speak has a lot packed into its 208 pages. Part mystery, part issue novel, Speak tells Melinda’s story with attention to detail, reminding us that the little things are often very important. Melinda’s voice is clear and authentic, and resonates with honesty. Melinda’s dry commentary on the superficiality and ironies of high school will ring true for many a teen. Anderson delivers a novel that brings its readers in and does not let them go even after the last page have been read. Readers will root for Melinda, as she tries to find her way out of her quiet isolation. Speak, Anderson’s first young adult novel, was highly praised by critics and won numerous honors.Ffor example, it was a National Book Award Finalist, a Printz Honor book, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and an Edgar Allan Poe Award finalist.
Reader’s Annotation: The events at an end-of-summer party create havoc for Melinda’s freshman year in high school.
Information about the Author: Laurie Halse, rhymes with waltz, Anderson is a highly acclaimed young adult and children’s book author. She is a two-time National Book Award Nominee, won an ALAN award in 2008, and won the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award, among many other honors and achievements.
Anderson “has loved writing since second grade” (Anderson, n.d.). She has taken Virginia Woolf’s quote “A woman must have…a room of her own to write fiction” (as quoted by Anderson, n.d.) to heart and has a lovely eco-friendly, off-the-grid writing cabin in the woods behind her house. Click here to watch a video of the cabin design and building process and, in the process, get to know a little more about Laurie Halse Anderson.
Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction, Suspense
Category: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Problems; Issues: Life Is Hard: Sexual Abuse, Outsiders
Curriculum Ties: Sexual Assault, Underage Drinking
- What might happen to you, that would leave you unable or unwilling to speak?
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 18
Challenge Issues: Underage drinking, sexual assault, rape. Anderson has a piece on her website with specific information to respond to challenges to Speak. (Anderson, 2009). Lastly, 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, four are mentioned above.
Why is this book included? Both the honors it has received and word of mouth from classmate,s as well as the mother of a teen I know, led me to choose to this book.
Anderson, L. H. (n.d.). Officially long official biography of Laurie Halse Anderson. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/laurie/
Anderson, L. H. (2009). Censorship & book banning: Challenges to Speak. Retrieved from http://madwomanintheforest.com/teachers/censorship-book-banning/
Plot Summary: In three concurrent story lines, American Born Chinese follows Jin Wang, the only Chinese American student in his school; the Monkey King, who is on a quest to become a true deity; and Chin Kee (yes, that is his name), the embodiment of negative Chinese ethnic stereotypes who, when he comes to visit, humiliates his popular, all-American-looking cousin, Danny. Jin Wang is picked on by bullies, falls in love with an “all-American” girls, and is an all-around sympathetic and likeable character. The Monkey King’s tale is reminiscent of ancient fables. And Chin Kee is so over the top, he just might make readers squirm. Using illustrations with clean lines and a cool, earthy color palette, Yang raises issues of ethnicity, race, identity, and self-acceptance. Each story gives readers lots to think about. Are they really separate stories, or is there a connection between them?
Critical Evaluation: Expressive illustrations and carefully chosen text make this graphic novel sophisticated and intelligent. Yang uses some over-the-top characters, as well as more relatable ones, to demonstrate the complexities of identity and being comfortable in one’s own skin. His prose is humorous and poignant, entertaining and thought-provoking. His illustrations work hand in hand with his prose to create a visual story with depth and emotion. His weaving of the book’s elements into a whole that is so much more than the sum of its excellent parts is what makes Yang a master at his craft and highly praised by critics and award committees. American Born Chinese has earned many awards and honors, what follows is a selected list: 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: New, Winner of the Printz Award, YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens – Top Ten List, 2007.
Reader’s Annotation: In three concurrent story lines, colorfully and expressively illustrated American Born Chinese follows Jin Wang, the only Chinese American student in his school; the Monkey King, who is on a quest to become a true deity; and Chin Kee (yes, that is his name), the embodiment of negative Chinese ethnic stereotypes.
Information about the Author: Gene Luen Yang lives in the San Francisco Bay Area; he started writing comic books in 5th grade. For his Master’s in Education at Cal State Hayward, he wrote his thesis on using comics in education. He has written several comic books; the highly praised American Born Chinese was his first graphic novel.
Yang is playful and has a great sense of humor, as is demonstrated by his books as well as the following answers to eight questions (as quoted from his Macmillan biography page.
EIGHT QUESTIONS from GENE LUEN YANG
What’s your favorite book that wasn’t written or drawn by you?
I have to pick only one? I’m gonna say Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. If it weren’t for that book, I wouldn’t be a cartoonist.
If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what one piece of media would you take with you? If it isn’t your favorite book, explain how you came to this peculiar decision.
A picture of my wife. Or maybe the Bible. No, a picture of my wife. Because she’s so pretty.
What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
I love all flavors of ice cream, but I’m lactose intolerant so I’ll have to say Rainbow Sherbet. Not as yummy as Mocha Almond Fudge, but so much better for my stomach. And for the folks sitting next to me.
How are you planning to survive the zombie apocalypse?
I’m gonna develop a taste for zombie flesh. Then I’m gonna go buy a large carving knife and lots of hot sauce.
What’s your favorite word?
“Moded.” Remember when junior high kids used to use that word to diss on their friends? So fun. We gotta bring that back. A whole generation is missing out on getting “moded.”
If you suddenly fell into a dimensional vortex and ended up in 1529, what profession would you adopt?
Black or white? Cats or dogs? Apples or oranges? Robots or vampires?
Black vampire apple-dogs
What’s the worst fortune cookie advice you ever got? Did you take it?
You take advice from fortune cookies? Seriously? We invented those things as a gimmick to sell you more moo shu pork. You’re not actually supposed to run your life by them.
Genre: Issues, Humor
SubGenre/Themes: Issues: Racism,
Format: Graphic Novel: Real Life Themes
Topics Covered: Race, Racism, Outsiders, Fitting In
Curriculum Ties: Race in America, Stereotypes
- Thinking about being the only one in your school that…
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 to 19 to adult
Challenge Issues: Stereotypes. Response: 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 numerous awards and honors, four are mentioned above.
Why is this book included? Graphic novels are very popular and often reach out to reluctant readers. With an enthusiastic endorsement from YASLA and its numerous awards, this book is a great choice for adding diversity to a collection’s formats.
Yang, G.L. (n.d.). Gene Luen Yang. Retrieved from http://us.macmillan.com/author/geneluenyang