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

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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Bibliographic Information: Anderson, L.H. (1999). Speak. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  ISBN: 0374371520.  208 pages.

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

Booktalking Ideas:

  • 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.

References:

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/