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: 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: Sixteen-year-old Bobby did not mean to become a father at such a young age, but he is, and his life will never be the same. Switching back and forth between “then,” before the baby was born and “now,” after his daughter Feather’s arrival into the world, The First Part Last tells the story of Bobby’s transition from regular old teenager to teen dad. Before Feather is born, Bobby and his pregnant girlfriend Nia are pressured by many of the adults in their lives to put the baby up for adoption, and the young soon-to-be parents want to do the right thing for their child, but what is the right thing? And is the right thing for their baby the same as the right thing for them? Bobby is conflicted and confused, but when Feather is in his arms Bobby realizes that he has never seen a more perfect being and he has never felt more love for anyone. Ever.
Critical Evaluation: The First Part Last is a touching and down-to-earth story, which starts with a beautiful front cover image depicting a young African American man gently holding an infant in his arms. Johnson’s writing is warm and imbued with emotion. Her ability to present an authentic perspective of an urban male teen is laudable, and her tender depictions of Bobby and Feather together are heartwarming. Bobby is presented as a regular 16-year-old kid with friends, and school, and a girlfriend but also as a young man who is gentle, sweet, loving, and completely dedicated to his infant daughter. Navigating his different roles and different worlds is tricky; it is hard being a teen dad. Bobby is exhausted, staying up nights with his baby. But, Bobby’s loving descriptions of Feather’s hands and her smell and how soft the curls on the top of her head are when he kisses her bring readers into the room, feeling what he is feeling. Many of Johnson’s passages are poetic. A person would be hard pressed not to empathize with Bobby and hope everything works out well for him and Feather. Winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King Book Award and the 2004 Michael L. Printz Award.
Reader’s Annotation: At sixteen, Bobby goes to high school and hangs out with his good friends. He never imagined he’d be a father already, and it’s a hard job, but when he takes his daughter Feather into his arms he realizes his enormous capacity for love.
Information about the Author: Angela Johnson has always loved books and being read aloud to, as she says, “Book people came to life,” (http://aalbc.com/authors/angela.htm). So, it is no wonder that she started writing in her diary as a child and has continued writing ever since.
In 1998, Johnson wrote Heaven, a Coretta Scott King Award Winning novel that contains the characters of Bobby and Feather. The events of Heaven, though written before, take place after the events of The First Part Last. In Heaven, Bobby and Feather become friends with main character Marley. Bobby and Feather’s family history is not expanded upon in Heaven, so Heaven readers who were intrigued by those characters have the chance to learn more in The First Part Last. Likewise, readers who enjoyed The First Part Last get to see the next stage in the lives, albeit with less detail, of Bobby and Feather in Heaven.
Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction
Subgenre/Theme: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Pregnancy and Teen Parents
Topics Covered: Teen Pregnancy, Sexuality, Parenthood, Fatherhood, Coming of Age, Growing Up
Curriculum Ties: English, Personal Narrative
- You are 16 years old and you are told that in nine months you are going to be a parent. Pause… What do you do? How do feel?
- Read one of the passages where Bobby describes Feather, ask questions about that. Does he sound like your average 16-year-old? Why? Why not? Does he love her?
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 -19
Challenge Issues: Teen sex, teen pregnancy, some adult language. In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won two prestigious awards from the American Library Association: Coretta Scott King and Michael L. Printz.
Why is this book included? I read and enjoyed Heaven, which is for a slightly younger audience, and was excited to find that Johnson has also written this award-winning book for teens. Also, It is important for a collection to tell many different stories from many different perspectives. The First Part Last provides the unique perspective of a teen father raising his baby daughter.