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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Conquering the Beast Within: How I Fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too by Cait Irwin

Bibliographic Information: Irwin, C. (1998). Conquering the Beast Within: How I fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too. New York, NY: Times Books.  ISBN: 0812932471.  105 pages.

Plot Summary: Cait Irwin was no typical thirteen-year-old.  Every minute of every day she had a constant companion — the beast – her name for her depression.  At first, partially due to the nature of the disease, she kept it to herself.  She isolated herself and “the beast” was able to exert a lot of influence over her.  But, eventually she sought and received help, and fought the beast, and won.  Part memoir, part self-help book, part how-to book, and part comic book, Irwin takes readers on her journey through her words as well as her cartoon-like drawing of the beast and his teen victim.  Not only does Irwin give practical suggestions for steps to take for teens struggling with depression, she most decidedly wants to offer those teens hope.  The book ends with letters to the reader from some of Irwin’s family members about how they supported her and, in some cases, how they would have behaved differently.

Critical Evaluation: Depression is a real disease, but sometimes we do not want to acknowledge it.  We do not want to look at it.  We do not want to deal with it.  We want to pretend it is not there.  People with depression as well as those around them are sometimes more comfortable pretending “the beast” is not there, BUT, Irwin warns us, when “the beast” is ignored he grows.  Telling her story, while at the same time speaking in general terms, could really help a depressed teen both not feel so alone and find ways to cope with her/his illness.  In a dramatic, but straightforward and not overly emotional, way, Irwin paints a picture of depression as an illness.  In fact, Irwin compares depression to a broken leg, both takes a teen out of full functioning, they might miss school time, sports practices, afterschool activities, even socializing with friends, but when the healing begins, these things can start to come back into a teen’s life again.  Wise beyond her years, Irwin clearly wants to help other teens battle the beast of depression.

Reader’s Annotation: Thirteen-year-old Cait Irwin fights and conquers, “the beast,” depression and wants others to learn from and be inspired by her journey.

Information about the Author:  At 13, Cait Irwin’s life was devastated by depression, but she fought her way out and shared her story with the world in Conquering the Beast Within: How I Fought Depression and Won…and How You Can, Too.  In 2006, Irwin co-wrote Monochrome Days: A First-Hand Account of One Teenager’s Experience With Depression with two psychology experts.

Cait Irwin, now 31, is a working artist who expresses herself in many ways, including painting, wall murals and stenciling an original piece of artwork the side of a barn silo.  She continues to be a strong suicide prevention advocate.

Genre: Non-Fiction, Issue, Illness, Mental & Emotional Problems

Format: Graphic Book

Category: Non-Fiction

Topics Covered: Depression, Suicide, Mental Health

Curriculum Ties: Health, Mental Health, Biology

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Use one of the graphics from the book
  • Talk about just how down Irwin became

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13-19

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources

Why is this book included? Many teens suffer from depression.  This book gives teens hope as well as concrete suggestions for fighting depression.  As the author, when she wrote it, was a teen herself, teens (and their parents) reading the book will be able to feel its authenticity.  This book’s unique format makes it a great choice, as providing books that speak directly to depressed teens would be an excellent service for the library to provide

References:

Cait’s website: http://sites.google.com/site/realityimpairedartworks/Home