Thirteen Reasons Why
Novels for Students. Ed. Sara Constantakis. Vol. 51. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2016. p272-292.
Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2016 Gale, Cengage Learning
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Page 272

Thirteen Reasons Why

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JAY ASHER 2007

INTRODUCTION

Published with little fanfare in October 2007, Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why quickly made its way to the New York Times best-seller list, inspired a nationwide anti-bullying campaign, and since then has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Told as a first-person plural narrative (two first-person narrators) and shaped around a box of cassette tapes, each carefully numbered, the novel tells the various and mostly degrading stories behind high-school freshman Hannah Baker's decision to commit suicide. From rumors to sexual assault, Hannah endures intense trauma that fuels a spiral of depression and feelings of powerlessness. Clay Jensen, the other narrator of the novel, struggles more and more with each tape he completes, feeling responsible for not doing enough to prevent Hannah's tragic choice.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Asher was born on September 30, 1975, in Arcadia, California, the son of a nurse and a mailman. He graduated from San Luis Obispo High School. He went on to Cuesta Community College, then transferred to California Polytechnic State University, determined to become a teacher, but dropped out of college to pursue writing full time. He married Joan Marie on September 7, 2002.

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Clay comes home to find an unexplained package on the porch.
Clay comes home to find an unexplained package on the porch. (© Sabphoto / Shutterstock.com)
 

At first, Asher met with little success in his chosen career. He worked at a variety of jobs in order to support his writing, which consisted primarily of picture books and children's humor novels. He had more than ten manuscripts rejected by publishers before the story of Hannah Baker was accepted under the working title Baker's Dozen: The Autobiography of Hannah Baker. (The manuscript had been rejected by twelve publishers by this point.) The story “was partly inspired by a relative of [Asher's] who had tried to commit suicide,” while the narrative structure (a series of audiotapes) “came from a visit to a casino in Las Vegas, where [he] used a recorded audio guide on a tour of an exhibition about King Tutankhamen of Egypt.”

The manuscript was eventually purchased by Razorbill, a young-adult imprint of Penguin books, in 2006. Renamed, it was released in October 2007, made its first appearance on the New York Times best-seller list in March of 2008, and spent 170 weeks on the list. It was subsequently published in more than a dozen countries, including Austria, Belgium, Russia, India, and Italy. The novel went on to win a number of awards, including the California Book Award for young-adult title. It was also recognized on the Barnes & Noble Top Ten Books for Teens, the Chicago Public Library Best Books list, and the Kirkus Reviews Editor's Choice list.

Asher co-authored his second book, The Future of Us ( 2011 ), with Carolyn Mackler. He continues to travel extensively in support of the 50 States Against Bullying project that was sparked by the powerful depiction of bullying in Thirteen Reasons Why.

PLOT SUMMARY

The novel opens with a mysterious package being mailed by a yet-unnamed but obviously distraught person, who worries both about what she is doing and the impact of this package on the next person to receive it

Yesterday One Hour After School

Clay Jensen, a quiet high-school student, arrives home from school one day to find a shoe box-sized Page 274  |  Top of Articlepackage from an anonymous person sitting on his doorstep. Opening it, he discovers that it contains seven cassette tapes, each with a dark blue number painted in the upper-right-hand corner. He heads to the garage to listen to the tapes on an old machine his father has stashed away.

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MEDIA ADAPTATIONS
  • Audible Audio released an audiobook of Thirteen Reasons Why in 2007. The recording is narrated by Debra Wiseman and Joel Johnstone, and the running time is about six and a half hours.
Cassette 1: Side A

What Clay learns from Cassette 1: Side A is that the tapes have been recorded by the late Hannah Baker, a classmate who recently committed suicide by taking a handful of pills. Clay also learns that the entire set has been mailed to a series of classmates with very specific instructions: listen to all the tapes, visit all the sites on the accompanying map, and then pass the entire package along to the next person in line. The reason for this project is also made clear: Hannah wants to explain to twelve people how they played a role in her death, by giving thirteen reasons explaining why she took her life. To ensure her plan is carried out, Hannah has given a second set of tapes to another classmate and warns the people on the tapes that if they do not pass them on, the second set (and the secrets hidden within) will be leaked to the entire student body.

The first to receive the cassettes is Justin Foley. He is a year older than Hannah, and her first crush in her new town. She describes a recurring dream she has of sliding down a slide in the local park. He catches her, giving her a kiss as he does. After dreaming about kissing him, she finally kisses him. However, what she has been dreaming about suddenly turns nasty when Justin turns a simple kiss into a rumor that they had a sexual encounter that night. Hannah is devastated, as her reputation is ruined and people are talking about her and looking at her very differently than before.

Hannah's words throughout the chapter are interspersed with Clay's thoughts as he struggles to make sense of what he is hearing. He begins to get deeply uncomfortable with the possibility that he might have had a role in Hannah's suicide. He is especially troubled given that he has an intense crush on her and has already been struggling with her decision to take her own life. In order to try to make sense of things, he begins to revisit his first meeting with Hannah.

In order to get some privacy with the tapes, Clay visits his friend Tony, who has a portable cassette player. Clay steals it and begins his journey from point to point on the map as he listens to Hannah's story.

Cassette 1: Side B

The second cassette story is about Alex Standall, a classmate who wrote a list of freshman girls who are hot and a list of those who are not. Hannah is appalled at two aspects of the list: that she has been voted as having the best butt in the freshman class and that her friend Jessica Davis has been put in the not-hot column. The distinction on the list is seen as an open invitation to all the boys in the school (as well as men outside the school, who learn of the list) to stare at Hannah as she walks by and make rude comments. The second part of this bad joke that disturbs Hannah is the realization that she has been used by Alex to get revenge on Jessica for breaking up with him.

Clay continues to struggle, reflecting on Hannah's treatment by her classmates, increasingly angry at himself for not intervening, and fearful of what the tapes will reveal about his role in her decision to commit suicide. Travelling to the first red star on the map, he ends up at Hannah's old house. An elderly couple live there now, and Clay remembers, too, that this was the site of a terrible car accident that occurred when a senior from high school plowed into the side of the older couple's car. Clay was one of the first people on the scene, and what he saw that night still haunts him.

Cassette 2: Side A

The third cassette story focuses on Jessica. As she, Hannah, and Alex were all new to the school during their freshman year, there was a natural Page 275  |  Top of Articleconnection that led to them meeting regularly at Monet's Garden Cafe and Coffeehouse to talk through the issues around being new and without a social network. After the list incident that has Hannah on and Jessica off the list and with Jessica believing more rumors (this time about Hannah and Alex) Jessica slaps Hannah and scratches a scar over her eyebrow. Clay boards a bus to visit his next location, which is Monet's Garden Café.

Cassette 2: Side B

Sitting in Monet's drinking hot chocolate in memory of Hannah and talking to a waitress he cannot remember from school, Clay hears the fourth cassette story about Tyler Down. Tyler is a yearbook photographer and a peeping Tom. He steals Hannah's ability to feel safe in the privacy of her own home, by taking photos through her bedroom window of her and her new friend Courtney Crimsen as they pretend to give sexy backrubs to each other.

Cassette 3: Side A

Courtney is known as the sweetest girl in school, but she ruthlessly begins yet another rumor about Hannah, all the while pretending to be her confidante and best friend. Hannah comes to realize this manipulation when she goes out of her way to drive them both to a party, only to have Courtney walk away and ignore her once they arrive.

Clay is behind in his task of following the map, so he boards a bus and rides to Tyler's house. On the bus, Clay meets Skye Miller, his eighth-grade crush, who has gone from being outgoing and popular to being an outcast. He wonders what happened to her as he disembarks near his destination.

Standing across the street from Tyler's house, Clay realizes that a bedroom window has been broken by a rock. Clay is startled when Marcus Cooley steps out of the shadows, offers him a rock, and advises him that it feels so much better to take some revenge on the local peeping Tom. When Clay refuses and challenges Marcus by asking him why he is on the tapes, Marcus coldheartedly says that Hannah was simply looking for an excuse to commit suicide. Clay walks away from the scene quickly.

Cassette 3: Side B

The sixth recording is about Marcus, the boy that Clay has just met at Tyler's house. After a Valentine's Day game that pairs Hannah and Marcus as a perfect match, he asks Hannah on a date. While they are at a local burger place, he gropes her aggressively, mentioning that he knows of her reputation and wants to test it for himself. When she pushes him away, he calls her a tease loudly and leaves angrily. At this point, Hannah senses that she no longer has control over her own life and begins to seriously consider suicide.

Having left Tyler's, Clay heads to Rosie's Diner, the next star on the map. As he contemplates whether to continue his journey through the tapes, Clay remembers the times he spoke with Hannah when she worked at the local movie theater and, more powerfully, wonders why she never reached out to ask him for help.

Cassette 4: Side A

At Rosie's, Clay orders a milkshake and continues to the next cassette. After Marcus leaves the burger joint, Zach Dempsey comforts Hannah. Although he is kind at first, she soon learns that he is not to be trusted either. In Hannah's favorite class, Peer Communications, Zach sabotages a program that allows students to compliment each other anonymously by destroying any compliment sent to Hannah. She confronts him in the hallways, breaking down in tears and embarrassing herself. The notes are the only form of contact Hannah has left with most of her classmates, and she feels that Zach wants her to have no form of encouragement.

Hannah leaves an anonymous note for the Peer Communications teacher admitting that she is considering suicide. The class discusses it, not knowing who has submitted it, but they react with annoyance and a lack of understanding rather than concern or compassion. One student goes so far as to say that because the person who wrote the note did so anonymously, no one should take it seriously.

As Clay listens to the cassette, he is interrupted by Tony, who asks him why he stole his Walkman. Clay makes a lame excuse that Tony accepts before moving to a nearby booth to order a burger and fries.

Page 276  |  Top of Article Cassette 4: Side B

The next story is about Ryan Shaver, editor of the infamous school newspaper Lost-N-Found Gazette. After taking a poetry class with Hannah, he steals a poem she wrote called “Soul Alone” and puts it in his column. English classes around the school examine it, mock it, and write scathing, mean-spirited parodies of it while she sits in the classroom listening. Ryan's actions push Hannah deeper into depression and deeper into a sense that even her thoughts are no longer safely her own.

As Clay gets ready to leave the diner, the man behind the counter refuses to take his money. Instead, he wishes him well with whatever is obviously troubling him.

Cassette 5: Side A

Leaving the restaurant, Clay is met by Tony, who seems to have been following him all night. Tony now offers a ride in his Mustang and informs Clay that he is the holder of the second set of tapes. He promises to explain why when Clay listens to the next tape. Tony offers to drive Clay around while he listens to the tape that is about himself.

Hannah explains that Clay was probably the nicest person she had met. She never heard anybody saying anything bad about him. One night at a party they finally talk after years of knowing each other casually, and on that night Hannah acknowledges that she and Clay connected. They end up talking for hours and then eventually go up to a bedroom, where they kiss. They stay in the room for a while, though Hannah is scared that Clay will betray her just as Justin did. Then she starts shouting at Clay to leave her, and at first Clay tries to protest, though eventually he leaves. Hannah breaks down crying.

Clay is shocked and asks Tony how he got the tapes. He learns that Hannah asked Tony for some tapes and a tape recorder. Tony gave them to her, not knowing why she wanted them. He received his set of tapes on the day that Hannah died. Tony has the second set of tapes and the task of making sure the tapes are passed on.

Cassette 5: Side B

Tony sets out to drive Clay to the infamous party house. In one of the most graphic and disturbing parts of the story, Clay hears how Hannah hides in the room after kissing him, for fear of being found. What she witnesses is Justin Foley allowing one of his friends, Bryce Walker, to rape Jessica, who has passed out drunk during the party. Hannah has trouble reconciling that she, too, was witness to this horrific act and did nothing to stop it.

Cassette 6: Side A

Tony tells Clay how Hannah had stopped by his house just before killing herself in order to give him her bike. In exchange, she asked to borrow the cassette recorder that Tony used to make tapes to play in his beloved Mustang. The day she died, he found a set of tapes waiting for him at home. He listened to them quickly, realized he was not on them and tried frantically to find Hannah before she did what she had promised to do in the tapes: take her own life. The next day, Hannah is not at school, and Tony realizes that he has been designated as the holder of the second set of tapes. The boys share an emotional moment, remembering Hannah, before Tony drops Clay off to continue his journey with the tapes.

On this tape, the story focuses on Jenny Kurtz, a cheerleader, who offers Hannah a ride home after the disastrous party, only to crash into a stop sign. When Hannah tries to call the police, Jenny, not wanting to get in trouble, kicks her out of the car. Later that same night, there is a car accident caused by the missing stop sign that kills a student at their high school. At this point, Hannah's guilt about the rape of Jessica grows yet again to encompass a new sense of responsibility for not calling the police to report the accident and damaged sign.

Cassette 6: Side B

Hannah is depressed, upset, and seriously considering ways to kill herself when the twelfth story occurs. Although Hannah does not go to Courtney's latest party, she is house-sitting at a house near Courtney's and ends up at the afterparty. There she finds Courtney and Bryce in the hot tub in their underwear. Hannah strips to her underwear and joins them. Bryce touches Hannah sexually while Courtney turns a blind eye. Hannah feels helpless as the assault continues, feeling ultimately that her undeserved reputation has come to define her life. Clay is repulsed by what he hears on this tape and hurries on to the next one.

Page 277  |  Top of Article Cassette 7: Side A

The last story is about Mr. Porter, an English teacher and counselor at Hannah's school. Hannah records this conversation rather than recounting it. When she opens up about the events that listeners (and readers) are now aware of, she turns to him for help and expresses her thoughts of suicide. He tells her that if she does not want to press charges against Bryce, she should simply move on. Hannah leaves his office at this point, and he does nothing to get her back in there, even though he knows she plans to kill herself. The last sentence Hannah says on her tapes is “I'm sorry.” Clay listens to this tape at the playground where the series started and is devastated by what he hears and how he feels.

Cassette 7: Side B

The final recording consists of lots of static and two simple words from Hannah: “Thank you.”

The Next Day after Mailing the Tapes

Clay goes to school the next day, unable to stop thinking about Hannah, the tapes, and the story that he has learned. During the day, he runs into Skye, who seems withdrawn. He realizes that she shows signs similar to those exhibited by Hannah in the days leading up to her death. In a moment of maturity and compassion, Clay makes the move to connect with her, saying her name to catch her attention.

CHARACTERS

Hannah Baker

Hannah is the protagonist of the novel and the creator of the series of cassette tapes that are being circulated to those people who had some role in her decision to commit suicide. When her reputation is ruined by rumor and gossip, Hannah undergoes a series of almost unbearable events that leave her feeling hopeless and out of control of any aspect of her young life. Feeling alone and vulnerable, both at school and in the privacy of her own bedroom, Hannah closes herself off from those around her and begins the process of preparing to take her own life. The signs are obvious to those around her, but only in retrospect. Hannah's story is the proverbial cry for help brought to life, and her recordings are powerful reminders of the risks and dangers inherent in teenage life.

Marcus Cooley

Marcus Cooley meets Clay initially at Tyler Down's house. Marcus offers Clay a rock to throw through the window of Tyler, who filmed Hannah through her bedroom window. Later, Clay finds out that Marcus was more directly involved in Hannah's decline, having groped her against her will during a date at Rosie's Diner.

Courtney Crimsen

Courtney is known as the sweetest girl in school. Her true nature is very different from her reputation: she pretends to be Hannah's friend so that she can use her for rides to parties.

Jessica Davis

Jessica is Hannah's onetime friend and part of the trio of new kids that meets regularly at Monet's Garden Café. She turns violent toward Hannah after Alex Standall's list is circulated around the school, slapping and scratching her.

Zach Dempsey

Zach is a classmate who comforts Hannah after she is groped in Rosie's Diner. He later betrays her by destroying all the anonymous compliments that are suppose to be delivered to her via a program in the Peer Communications course.

Tyler Down

Tyler is the school's most talented photographer but also a chronic peeping Tom who takes pictures of Hannah in her bedroom. His actions take away the safety that Hannah should be able to feel in her own home, which is a major contribution to her decline.

Justin Foley

Justin's is the first name in the tapes. He is responsible for starting the rumors that would eventually take control of Hannah's life. A senior and a boy on whom Hannah had a crush, Justin is also Hannah's first kiss. However, when Justin spreads a story that turns the kiss into a full sexual encounter, he sets into motion the series of events recounted in the subsequent tapes. Justin returns later in the story as the accessory to Bryce Walker's rape of a drunken Jessica.

Page 278  |  Top of Article Clay Jensen

Clay is a quiet high-school student whose life changes the day he comes home to find a series of cassette tapes in a box addressed to him. The tapes are from Hannah Baker, a classmate who recently committed suicide and whom Clay had long had a crush on. The more tapes he listens to, the more Clay comes to understand the struggles that Hannah faced day after day as rumors spread about her sexual behavior and as fellow classmates assaulted her verbally and physically. Although he is exonerated from any blame in her decision, Clay does reach a new, mature understanding of the signs that he missed, the things he could have done to help prevent the tragedy, and the powerful ways in which words can both help and hurt people. The novel ends with Clay putting that new knowledge into action as he reaches out to connect with Skye, a young woman who is exhibiting many of the signs that Hannah displayed before she killed herself.

Jenny Kurtz

Jenny is a cheerleader who kindly offers Hannah a ride home following the disastrous party during which Jessica is raped. When Jenny's car slides into a stop sign, knocking it over, she panics and refuses to report the accident to the police. Kicking Hannah out of the car, Jenny drives away, leaving the intersection unprotected by a stop sign. An accident later occurs at exactly this intersection, killing a student and injuring an elderly couple.

Skye Miller

Skye is Clay's eighth-grade crush. He runs into her while on the bus en route to Tyler Down's house. Clay comes to realize that the once outgoing girl he knew has become withdrawn and sullen. Only after listening to the full set of tapes does he recognize in Skye the same signs that he had seen earlier in Hannah. Rather than allowing her to continue to feel this way, Clay reaches out at the end of the novel to connect with Skye.

Mr. Porter

Mr. Porter is the school counselor to whom Hannah turns in her final attempt to find an alternative to suicide. After a series of questions that focus primarily on Bryce Walker's sexual assault (though he is never named directly in their discussion), Mr. Porter comes to the conclusion that since Hannah is unwilling to press charges or confront Bryce directly, she might want to begin working on moving beyond the incident. His words are the final proof to Hannah of her powerlessness and the final tipping point in her decision to end her own life.

Ryan Shaver

Ryan is editor of a school newsletter that publishes a brutal satire of one of Hannah's private (and supposedly anonymous) poems. His actions spark a firestorm of insensitive parodies and public jokes that effectively turns Hannah's innermost thoughts into the object of ridicule.

Alex Standall

Alex is one of the new kids in school and one of the three students (along with Jessica and Hannah) who meet regularly at Monet's Garden Caféto talk about the struggles of adjusting. Later, Alex makes Hannah the object of much unwanted attention by including her on his hotand-not-hot list of freshman students. His motives are not just demeaning and cruel but doubly mean-spirited when Hannah realizes he has used her to get revenge on Jessica for breaking up with him.

Tony

Tony is Clay's classmate, owner of a classic Mustang, and holder of the second set of tapes, which are to be released if one of the recipients of the package fails to comply with the rules of listening to all the tapes. Tony provides support to Clay throughout his journey through the story of Hannah.

Bryce Walker

Bryce is a senior at Hannah's school and one of the most vicious characters in the novel. A sexual predator, he rapes a drunk and incoherent Jessica during a party and later sexually assaults Hannah in a post-party hot tub attack. The latter is the lowest and most tragic point in Hannah's life, making her feel powerless, totally vulnerable, and unable to overcome the reputation that had been started by Justin Foley.

THEMES

Friendship

Friendships are formed by the development of reciprocal respect and affection between two or more people. Generally like-minded people tend Page 279  |  Top of Articleto form friendships because they often have interests in common or, as in the case of Hannah, Jessica, and Alex, such common experiences as being the new kids in a school. As Hannah struggles for friendship, she also struggles to be able to enjoy being in the company of her classmates; to feel safe sharing laughter; to talk openly with an expectation of laughter, honesty, or sympathy; and to express her feelings without fear or repercussions of judgment.

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TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
  • James Howe's young-adult novel The Misfits ( 2001 ) follows the stories of four outcast students who decide to fight back through nonviolent means (they try to take over student council) as a political response to years of name calling and bullying. Taking your inspiration from this book as well as Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, create an interactive website that shows young people the dangers of bullying and how it can be controlled within today's schools.
  • Write a well-structured essay in which you respond to this question: Why does Hannah choose to record her conversation with Mr. Porter rather than provide commentary on it as she has done in the previous twelve stories? Does this tactic have a different impact? If so, what is the difference, and why is it important to the novel as a whole.
  • One of the important symbols in the novel is the stop sign that Jenny hits with her car. Develop a poster on which you put the symbol of a stop sign in the middle. From the stop sign, draw a series of radiating lines. At the end of each of these lines, develop a paragraph or two that explains one of the many possible meanings of the stop-sign symbol, in order to produce a 360-degree picture of the complexities of this sign as it relates to Hannah's struggles in the novel.
  • As Steven Wolk argues in his essay “What Should Students Read?,” the curriculum that schools and teachers bring to students “is a value statement. When [teachers] read aloud a novel, assign a poem, pass out an essay, and crack open the textbooks, [they] are implicitly saying that these texts are the most essential for students to read. They are the best texts for their education.” Imagine that you attend a school that has not yet chosen Thirteen Reasons Why as one of these best texts. Write a letter to the local school board or newspaper in which you argue for its inclusion in the curriculum and the reasons why you feel this move is necessary and justified. Hint: perhaps you could create a letter that gives the thirteen reasons why the novel should be included.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why was originally called Baker's Dozen: The Autobiography of Hannah Baker but underwent a title change before publication in October 2007. Write a well-structured and thoughtful essay in which you discuss the implications of this change. How does it alter the reader's expectations before starting the novel, for instance? Does it affect the message of the novel in any way or a reader's understanding of either Hannah or Clay?

Asher's novel is an accurate representation of the power of friendship in a young person's life. As children enter the teenage years, family becomes less important, and friends increase significantly in influence and importance. Experts have stated that positive, accepting, and supportive friendships help mold teenagers' development as they enter adulthood. In other words, it is important for teenagers to feel that they have a strong personal support group and that they have a sense of belonging to this support group. To help with their developing confidence, teenagers need to feel that they are being valued. A lot of changes are going on in adolescence Page 280  |  Top of Articlephysically, emotionally, and psychologically, and friendships help support individuals as they go about the changes that puberty brings, both physically and emotionally. Psychologists have found that positive friendships and having a peer group that will listen and provide feedback substantially lower the risk of loneliness and depression.


In the box, Clay finds a series of cassette tapes.
In the box, Clay finds a series of cassette tapes. (© PhotoGraphyca / Shutterstock.com)
 

Rumor

A rumor, also referred to as gossip, is something made up about someone or about false events that circulates from one person to another, sometimes culminating in distress to the person the rumor is about. As Hannah learns quickly and all too personally, once rumors are fabricated, they cannot be undone. More tragically, she also learns that rumors can be disseminated without any connection to reality and that they can very quickly lead to unfair judgment of an individual.

There is an ancient Chinese story in which a man is asked to release a pillow full of feathers. A big wind comes and blows the feathers over the entire kingdom. Then the man is asked to go and collect all the feathers and stuff them back into the pillow without letting even one feather go missing. Once the man realizes how difficult this task would be is, he is told that the job is, indeed, impossible. Rumors are like these feathers: once the first untruth about Hannah's sexual behavior reaches the ears of a classmate, the rumor flies on wings of its own and can never be proved false.

Suicide

Teen suicide is a long-standing problem in American culture. Psychologists have suggested that a suicidal person feels so much pain that the only option she can see is to end her life. At other times, suicidal people are prone to seeing themselves as a burden to society, and suicide becomes the only route that they have to escape their overwhelming sense of isolation and meaninglessness. As Asher shows through his depiction of Hannah, people who end their own lives often do so from a place of extreme powerlessness, rejection, loneliness, and hopelessness.

As Thirteen Reasons Why underscores, there can be many contributing factors to a decision to Page 281  |  Top of Articleend one's own life, many of which are external and preventable. Bullying a person who already has low self-esteem, for instance, can lead to serious problems, especially if combined with other issues like depression or alcohol and drug dependence or overuse. Many victims of suicide are shown to have been bullied because of their sexual orientation, race, religion, or demeanor and physical appearance.

STYLE

First-Person Narrators

Thirteen Reasons Why is unique in that it has not one but two narrators (Clay and Hannah), both of whom work with the first-person voice. Both characters explicitly refer to themselves as “I,” and both allow readers access to their inner thoughts and struggles. This structure allows for a doubling of the emotional depth of the novel, as readers experience Hannah's abuse at the hands of her classmates as well as Clay's reaction to her decision through his words.

Although the novel does tend often toward a stream-of-consciousness style in combination with interior monologue, both of which are classic first-person techniques, neither Clay's nor Hannah's reliability is ever in question. (Sometimes used interchangeably, stream of consciousness and interior monologue refer to narrative techniques that try to capture the thought processes and emotional responses just as characters feel them. This emphasis often leads to loose, free-flowing, even fragmented passages that flow seemingly unfiltered from the narrator's mind to the page.) There is little doubt that the events happened as Hannah describes them or that her sense of loss is as deeply felt as she suggests. In this case, the first-person strategy is used to develop emotional depth and complexity in order to deal with a complex and disturbing issue.

Metaphor

Drawn loosely from the Latin term metaphora (which derives from the Greek word metapherein, to “transfer” or “carry across” ), metaphor is a type of figurative language that effectively carries a meaning associated with one subject across a point of comparison to connect with another, typically unrelated object. In other words, a metaphor compares two unlike objects with each other (for example, love is open rose light). In fiction, the use of metaphor expands language and perception, effectively cracking the edges of language to open up more depth of meaning. In Thirteen Reasons Why, the metaphor of the cassette tapes underscores the fact that Hannah feels she no longer has a voice in her own life, no way of having her stories heard other than to record them and leave them as her legacy. Similarly, the map that she leaves for Clay and the other recipients of the tapes is symbolic of the journey she is on and how seemingly benign (and often popular) places in any town or city can be densely layered with meaning. For every first-date milkshake shared at Rosie's Diner, Hannah wants to emphasize, there may also be a dark story of groping in the back corner booth or of a hurtful rumor started by a group sharing fries.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The year 2007 saw an abundance of political unrest, suicides, and violent shootings. On April 26, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a South Korean student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, shot and killed thirty-two students and teachers on the campus before turning the gun on himself in a dramatic suicide. This horrific event shocked the nation, representing one of deadliest shooting incidents committed by a single gunman in US history. This seemingly senseless act made many university students and citizens feel very vulnerable.

Globally and equally disturbing were the multiple suicide bombings that occurred in Qahtaniya in northern Iraq on August 14, 2007. The final number of victims was over five hundred, which shocked even a world growing increasingly accustomed to political unrest. A few months later on November 6, 2007, a suicide bomber in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, killed fifty people, including six members of the national assembly. Individual suicide, as Clay Jensen comes to understand all too deeply, is never easily comprehensible. The decision is very personal and is made more complicated by involving psychological, religious, and even political elements.

As Asher underscores in Thirteen Reasons Why, suicide can be a result of bullying, especially among teenagers. Recognition of these Page 282  |  Top of Articledangers became increasingly important to social commentators in 2007. A report on teens and cyberbullying released on February 28, 2007, found that slightly more than four in ten teens (43 percent) said that they had experienced some level of cyberbullying within the previous year. Cyberbullying is higher among females than males and highest among fifteen-and sixteen-year-olds.


On the tapes, Hannah explains all of the reasons that contributed to her feeling hopeless.
On the tapes, Hannah explains all of the reasons that contributed to her feeling hopeless. (© Masson/ Shutterstock.com)
 

The reasons that bullying occurs are complex and can range from social and economic conditions to ethnicity, sexual orientation, or physical appearance. Manifestations of bullying are equally complex and can include direct threats, intimidation, teasing, taunting, name calling, sexual comments, rumormongering, texting, social networking, and defamatory or vicious online posting.

One of the most common mental disorders found in teenagers who are bullied is depression, which if left untreated can interfere with their ability to function normally. A 2007 study linking bullying and suicidal behavior found that teenagers who were bullied in school were five times as likely to have serious suicidal thoughts and four times as likely to attempt suicide as students who had not been victims.

Responses to the research of 2007 was swift, assisted in no small part by the popularity of Asher's novel. The first International Stand Up to Bullying Day took place in February 2008, which coincided with anti-bullying week. This event has now evolved into Pink Shirt Day, during which everyone is encouraged to wear something pink to show that we should all work together to prevent bullying in schools, across communities, and online.

CRITICAL OVERVIEW

Exploring the novel's publishing backstory, as well as its quiet rise to the ranks of a best seller, Motoko Rich of the New York Times remarks on the potential benefits of a novel about the very sensitive subject of teen suicide reaching such heights of popularity. “With its thrillerlike pacing and scenes of sexual coercion and teenage backbiting,” he suggests, “the novel appeals to young readers, who say the book also gives them insight into peers who might consider suicide.” As Rob Brunner notes in Entertainment Weekly, the novel is “suspenseful and addictive and more entertaining than people might expect.” The book “has grown into a word-of-mouth phenomenon,” Brunner continues, fueled by “an outpouring of emotion from readers who connect with the book's message of tolerance and compassion.”

Critics vary in their opinions of the strengths of Asher's novel. In a review in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Katrina Bromann celebrates the fact that he “writes strong, distinct voices” for the characters of Hannah and Clay, while elsewhere Bryan Gillis argues that “the strength of [the novel] is the plotting.” Gillis also acknowledges that “character development is also a strength,” as is Asher's use of structure. The latter comes to light, according to Gillis, in large part because “Asher has done a remarkable job of integrating Hannah's voice (via the tapes) with Clay's thoughts, responses, and memories to create an inventive and seamless dual narration.”

Bromann is careful to mark, too, Asher's balanced touch at the end of the novel: “The end, wherein Clay reaches out to another withdrawn girl, would seem cheaply convenient if the audience was not in such desperate need of a bit of closure and a glimmer of hope.” Gillis chooses instead to focus on the message that he believes Asher's novel delivers: “Stop being apathetic, pay attention, and, most important, be kind to one another.”

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WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
  • Asher's second novel, The Future of Us ( 2011 ), was co-authored with Carolyn Mack-ler. It tells the story of Josh and Emma, who are given the opportunity to see their lives fifteen years in the future. What begins as a fascinating discovery soon gives way to some serious rethinking about how their actions affect their lives and the lives of others.
  • Totally Joe ( 2005 ), James Howe's first sequel to his powerful novel The Misfits ( 2001 ), is told in the unique form of an alpha-biographical assignment (the school year is depicted one letter at a time) told from the perspective of Joe, one of the Misfits, who endures year after year of verbal and physical bullying from classmates.
  • Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl ( 2000 ) is a young-adult novel about a girl who is so eccentric that she initially fascinates, then frustrates, and inevitably angers other students who cannot fit her anywhere into their understanding of the world. This book delivers an important message of acceptance and understanding in a world increasingly defined by the pressure to conform.
  • Carrie Gordon Watson's Quad ( 2007 ) takes a different look at the pressures of high school and teenage life. When shots ring out in the hall of Muir High, six students from different cliques in the school barricade themselves inside the school store and try to figure out who the shooter could be. The ordeal shows them that however different they might be on the surface, they do have deeply important values, fears, and dreams that connect them.
  • Jo Knowles's Lessons from a Dead Girl ( 2007 ) takes a broader perspective of bullying behaviors. When Leah dies in a car crash, her best friend, Laine, revisits the dynamics of their friendship and comes to understand more fully the damaging and damaged nature of their relationship.
  • K. A. DeWolf's Stop Bullying: Effective Ways to Overcome Bullying in School Permanently ( 2014 ) is one of many good books available to help parents, teachers, and students understand more completely what bullying is, how it looks and works in the world of technology, and how to deal with it effectively in a school environment.
  • Taiwanese writer Chih-Yaun Chen's Guji-Guji ( 2011 ) explores the issues of bullying and family loyalties through this charming (and wonderfully illustrated) story of a crocodile who is born into a family of ducks. Guji-Guji's happiness is threatened when he is pressured by some older crocodiles to turn on his family and to embrace the order of the natural world.

CRITICISM

Klay Dyer

Dyer is a freelance writer and editor specializing in topics related to literature, popular culture, and technology. In the following essay, he explores the complex representation of trauma in Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why.

At its core, Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why is a novel about trauma, which is most broadly defined as the deeply felt and lasting wounds that come from violent or abusive emotional and physical experiences. Rather than focusing singularly on Hannah's trauma and the resulting decision to end her life, Asher expands the circle of trauma outward to include those who are exposed to the tapes as well as the broader context of the high school within which Hannah feels vulnerable and exposed.

Structurally, Asher's novel can be regarded as a collective (as distinct from individual) struggle to deal with the traumatic impacts of Page 284  |  Top of Articlerumormongering, bullying, and sexual assault. In spite of the hopeful ending of the book, with Clay reaching out to Skye, it also raises serious and pointed questions about the capability and responsibility of contemporary society and its institutions (like schools) to recognize, acknowledge, and handle effectively the culture of bullying that comes to define Hannah's life. The cumulative trauma that leads Hannah to kill herself reveals a collective malaise that lies repressed beneath a culture of denial and avoidance.

Hannah and Clay, the two voices of the novel, are positioned in two distinct but at the same time fluid roles in terms of the traumatic events that unfold: victim and bystander. Together, they tell the story of a culture of rumor and bullying that victimizes an innocent high-school student (Hannah) while leaving others (such as Clay, Tony, and Jenny) to deal perpetually with the questions that linger as the aftermath of their understanding of the reasons for her decision: Why did I not see what was happening? What could I have done differently to help? Why did I not act?

In this sense, Thirteen Reasons Why forms a traditional trauma structure. Hannah's tapes recount the details of her struggles, from a sense of powerlessness and vulnerability through depression to the point of final resolve. This level of the story is vocalized through Hannah's recordings, giving her pain an audience in death that it never had in life. As she makes explicitly clear from her first words on the first cassette, this part of the story will be all Hannah's to control: “Hello, boys and girls,” she begins. “Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo…. No return engagements. No encore. And this time,” she states emphatically, “absolutely no requests.” This is to be her story, told her way, and without interruption. It is to be the voice of the victim, heard clearly.

This early assertion forces Clay into the role of listener or bystander. Unable to react, he is effectively forced to listen to tape after tape and in doing so confront the effects of a culture that he has taken for granted for so long and, more disturbingly, the possibility that he had some role in the death of a girl he barely even knew. He is jolted into a harsh new reality very early in the novel, and he immediately searches for an escape:

I pick up [a] cloth diaper and drape it over the shoebox to hide it from my eyes. I wish I'd never seen that box or the seven tapes inside it. Hitting Play that first time was easy. A piece of cake. I had no idea what I was about to hear.

Ignorance is bliss in this case, but once the veil has been lifted and the true voice of trauma turned loose into his consciousness, Clay finds his world redefined dramatically. The simple act of pushing a button is transformed suddenly into “one of the most frightening things I've ever done.” Although he is eventually released from any direct responsibility, Clay realizes with each passing tape the complex relationship he now has with the trauma cascading outward from Hannah's suicide.

As Clay sits in the playground where the story begins, the final tape winding to an end, he articulates both physically (in tears) and verbally (in words) his own posttraumatic reality: “With my face pressing against the bars, I begin to cry.” Reminding himself of Hannah's final words (“I'm sorry” ), he unfolds the options that he and the others must now deal with: “Some of us won't be willing to say those words back. Some of us will be too angry at Hannah for killing herself and blaming everyone else.” But unlike those others, Clay has resolved himself to a new posttraumatic understanding of the world in which he now lives. It is an understanding that allows him to embrace his own power to help, to be a listener in the truest, healthiest sense of the word. “I would have helped her if she'd only let me,” he acknowledges to himself. “I would have helped her because I want her to be alive.” It is from this new position that Clay can, and does, reach out to another girl, Skye, who seems destined to fall through the cracks into a potentially tragic hopelessness.

Yet, as this novel shows, trauma is never as black and white as the victim-bystander pairing implies. Hannah is not a classic victim, for what weighs very heavily on her mind, too, is the fact Page 285  |  Top of Articlethat on at least two occasions she was a witness and participant, in a sense, in deeply traumatic events. Failing to report the destruction of the stop sign, albeit accidentally, by Jenny makes Hannah complicit in the fatal accident that later occurs at that same intersection. Even more profoundly, watching Bryce Walker rape a defenseless Jessica after a night of drinking leaves Hannah stunned by a level of complicity that aligns her, ironically, with Justin Foley, the origin of the rumor that eventually destroyed Hannah's life. “So what do you think of him now, Justin?” Hannah challenges on the tape. “Do you hate him? Your friend that raped her, is he still your friend? Yes, but why? It must be denial. It has to be.”


Even a memory that should have been positive Hannah's first kiss with Justin is twisted into a rumor that makes her miserable.
Even a memory that should have been positive Hannah's first kiss with Justin is twisted into a rumor that makes her miserable. (©michaeljung / Shutterstock.com)
 

However much Hannah is forced to acknowledge in these moments that she is the product of the community that has abused her, she does not try to deny her role in the events she witnessed. Confronting the rationalization that she imagines drives Justin's denial, Hannah is direct in her challenge: “Great! That's great news, Justin. Because if [Bryce] didn't do anything wrong, and if you didn't do anything wrong, then I didn't do anything wrong. And you have no idea how much I wish I didn't ruin that girl's life. But I did,” she continues, openly acknowledging her role in allowing more violence and more trauma into the world without objecting. “At the very least, I helped. And so did you. No, you're right, you didn't rape her. And I didn't rape her. He did. But you … and I … we let it happen. It's our fault.”

Hannah's shift to the collective pronouns (“we” and “our” ) in this statement is a powerful message. Being a reflection of the whole community, her own abuse might, in a simpler story, position Hannah as outside that community, isolated as victim of trauma. But as she watches a classmate rape a semiconscious girl, she is deeply traumatized in another way. She is forced to acknowledge that even she is complicit in the violence that marks this community through her inability to step out of the closet (literally and metaphorically) to cry for help.

Even though readers are provided with more than adequate evidence to support the reading of Page 286  |  Top of ArticleThirteen Reasons Why as a classic trauma narrative that culminates tragically with Hannah's suicide, the complexity of the narrative unfolds a kind of resistance to locate the cause of the suicide or to put the blame for the tragic events singularly on one or even two moments in time. The wound opened by Justin Foley's words is both a symptom and a cause of the traumatizing culture that has taken hold of Hannah's world. The real threat, and the threat that Hannah eventually succumbs to, is the threat of becoming homogenous within a culture that simply turns a blind eye (and deaf ear) to rumors and gossip. The real threat, which Hannah confronts directly as she bears silent witness to Jessica's rape, is in becoming compliant (even through silence) in the mechanisms of trauma.

What Clay and Tony (and by extension, the reader) ultimately take away from Hannah's set of tapes is a deep and unsettling understanding of the pervasive power of even innocent individuals to aid and abet a culture that traumatizes indiscriminately, as well as the tragic silence that both victims and bystanders to trauma are forced to endure. In the end, it matters less which category Hannah (or Jessica or Clay or Jenny) falls into, compared with the tragic reality that all their traumatic experiences are left unvoiced, untreated, and ignored. There are many things in life, as Hannah tries to explain to Mr. Porter as the final tape unwinds, that cannot be moved past in silence.

Source: Klay Dyer, Critical Essay on Thirteen Reasons Why, in Novels for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2016.

Bryan Gillis

In the following review, Gillis recommends Thirteen Reasons Why for older students because of the difficult subject matter.

Teen suicide is a hot-button issue. However, unlike abortion, casual sex, or freedom of speech, no one seems to be taking sides on this one. If you poll 100 people, all of them will tell you that they are against teen suicide. If you search teen suicide on the Internet, you will find sites that list reasons and prevention tips. Jay Asher, in his debut novel Thirteen Reasons Why, has taken the topic of suicide one step further. What if you really did know the reasons behind a young woman's suicide? What if, before she did it, she left behind audiotapes that explained all of the reasons why she decided to take her own life?

Thirteen Reasons Why tells the story of Clay Jensen, who receives a box in the mail from his now deceased friend, Hannah, containing seven cassette tapes. These seven tapes contain Hannah's voice on 13 recorded sides; one side for each person she wants to receive the tapes and each reason that Hannah perceived had something to do with her choice to commit suicide. Clay is not the first person to receive the tapes, nor will he be the last, and as we listen to the tapes with him, we not only learn about the events that Hannah thinks led to her decision, we learn about Clay, who initially doesn't understand how he could have possibly contributed to Hannah's decision.

The strength of Thirteen Reasons Why is the plotting. Readers discover right away that Hannah has already committed suicide. Still, her posthumous narration keeps readers engaged and guessing. The book is impossible to put down, because even though we know Hannah is dead, we want to know why she did it. Character development is also a strength. Asher makes us care about Clay. We want to know how and why he is involved in all of this. Readers won't get the entire picture until they have listened to the last tape. And the picture is quite surprising. No parental abuse stories, no creepy uncles, just a sequence of small incidents that, in Hannah's mind, were not handled properly and led to unmanageable circumstances.

Jay Asher has done a remarkable job of integrating Hannah's voice (via the tapes) with Clay's thoughts, responses, and memories to create an inventive and seamless dual narration. The author pulls no punches, including a descriptive and heart-wrenching (but necessary) hot tub scene that will leave you aching. After I finished reading Thirteen Reasons Why (in one sitting), all of those teen suicide websites filled with reasons and preventative measures seem rather ineffectual compared with the experience of reading Asher's story of a girl who felt she was left with no options. His message is clear: Stop being apathetic, pay attention, and, most important, be kind to one another.

Thirteen Reasons Why deals with some very serious subject matter and is probably most suitable for high school students and above.

Source: Bryan Gillis, Review of Thirteen Reasons Why, in Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Vol. 54, No. 7, April 2011, pp. 542 45.

Page 287  |  Top of Article C. J. Bott, Anne Peters, and Jay Asher

In the following interview, Asher discusses the problem of bullying with fellow authors.

Bullying kills too many young people. To lose even one to this social cruelty is too many. Victims die in different ways. Sometimes the harassers take their attacks too far, and they commit murder. Other times, the targeted teen gets pushed into a violent reaction, perhaps taking a gun to school knowing that in any interaction he will die.

Then there are those targets who turn inward. They aren't angry as much as ashamed, and that shame tears down their identity. In some cases, the bullying intensifies and the target cannot bear it any longer—living hurts too much—and that youth chooses suicide to escape the pain and loneliness. Bullycide is a word coined by Neil Marr and Tim Field in their book Bullycide: Death at Playtime—An Exposéof Child Suicide Caused by Bullying.

Authors who write for teens are exposing this tragedy in their work: Jay Asher in Thirteen Reasons Why and Julie Anne Peters in By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead. Each book tells the story of a high school girl who has been the target of bullying for too long.

Bott: Welcome Julie Anne Peters and Jay Asher! Would you each briefly introduce your book for our readers?

Asher: Thirteen Reasons Why begins when Clay finds a package addressed to him on his doorstep. Inside are several audiotapes, their sides labeled one through thirteen. When he presses play on the first tape, he hears the voice of Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who recently committed suicide. Each side of each tape, she says, tells the story about a different person at school who influenced her decision.

Each person who received the tapes was one of the reasons why [she killed herself]. In one tense night, Clay wanders through town, listening to Hannah's last words … unable to imagine what he could have possibly done.

Peters: Daelyn Rice is taunted at school on a daily basis about being overweight. She begs her parents to be homeschooled, but they don't see it as the solution to Daelyn's inability to deal with name-calling and teasing. As the harassment escalates, Daelyn's response begins to manifest in self-destructive behaviors, even attempts at suicide. Her parents move her from school to school and even send her to fat camp, but by the time Daelyn reaches middle school, she's already decided her only escape from the tormentors is to eliminate the source of the torment—herself.

Bott: Although Daelyn's life is filled with pain, she does have short respites. The idea that she signed up for chorus even though she couldn't speak made me smile and endeared her to me even more. How else did you lighten her load?

Peters: I threw everything I could think of at Daelyn. I gave her every reason to live—loving parents, trained professionals, medical science, God, a fresh start, a new friend, the possibility of romantic love. Then I left it up to her.

Bott: Jay, after I read Thirteen Reasons Why, I listened to the CD and found it haunting yet also comforting. Maybe because even though I knew Hannah was dead, her prerecorded voice was filled with an array of emotions. Somehow it made the book less sad. Ifeel guilty saying that.

Asher: I spent a lot of time coming up with ways to make this book a little less sad. So I'll take your concern as a compliment! Knowing Hannah was dead made the book a little less sad. Since she is gone, there's nothing anyone can do to help her anymore, so it's just a matter of listening to her story.

In my research, I found this one fact that allowed Hannah to express that array of emotions you mentioned, although it's contrary to the stereotype of suicidal people being so depressed [that] they can barely get out of bed. Many people struggle with suicidal thoughts for a long time. When they come to the decision that they're going to do it, there's often a sense of peace that overcomes them. It was under that sense of calm that Hannah recorded her tapes.

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Bott: I thought you both were very brave in writing these books. Julie, Daelyn's tortured past comes to readers through her reflections, but then you give them Daelyn at the end of her years of torment. We watch her prepare for suicide, determined that this time she will succeed, Jay, yours is a complete and structured examination of sexual harassment that builds from an irresponsible comment into a power capable of destroying a young girl's life. How did you come to write such books?

Peters: In October 2006, I was preparing for a talk at an upcoming ALAN workshop, where you chaired a panel of authors addressing the issue of bullying in literature. A few months before, you'd sent me the presentation's title, “Don't Look and It Will Go Away: YA Books—A Key to Uncovering the Invisible Problem of Bullying.”

For my part of the panel discussion, Iplanned to read letters from young readers who described the harassment they'd been subjected to at school and at home for coming out as gay. Bullying ranged from years of taunting and verbal abuse to physical assault to family disownment. Self-injury is high among gay youth, and suicide is mentioned so often in the letters I receive that it's agonizing to know gay youth feel that suicide is their only way out.

During that same time, I saw a special report on television about kids who'd been so severely bullied in school from kindergarten on that they'd either dropped out or were forced into homeschooling. Even if they had pleaded for help, they'd received little or no adult intervention to stop the abuse. The camera showed the hopelessness in their eyes. Several parents talked about their bullied kids who in the end committed suicide. Later, I'd learn the term for it: bullycide.

After that presentation, questions began to formulate in my brain. Why do some children survive harassment while others cannot? Are we born with an overarching sense of self-preservation? Are we given free will at birth? When and why and how do we begin to exercise free will in self-destructive ways? If a child is constantly bullied and teased with no relief in sight, how long does it take before she or he loses hope? How can we not know our children are hurting? This novel was a search for answers.

Asher: There are all sorts of unearned reputations you can get in high school. I decided to have Hannah's sexual reputation play a big part in her story, leading to even more harassment, because those were the [kinds of] rumors that affected every female I talked to while working on the book. If readers are lucky enough to have escaped those rumors, they've no doubt heard them swirling around their school hallways. It was important to me that readers recognize some of the things said about Hannah … and then have a chance to hear how much pain those rumors caused her.

One of the most frustrating things I've heard with regard to my book is when some people hold up things Hannah went through as things most girls go through, and yet those girls learned to deal with it. But like Julie asked, why do some children survive harassment while others can't? No one knows for sure, but wouldn't it be better to talk about these things and try to stop them than simply shrug them off as a part of growing up? That attitude scares the heck out of me.

Bott: It is interesting to me that you both chose female main characters. Both are harassed about their bodies, Daelyn for being overweight, Hannah for having “the best ass.” How did these attributes make them easy targets?

Asher: My early understanding of the issue came from a female relative who attempted suicide, which probably influenced me. I did question whether or not the character should be male, but because most teens who attempt suicide are female, I thought it was appropriate to discuss the issues through her.

The first “reason” Hannah gives for her downward spiral is a rumor that pinned her with an undeserved reputation. She speaks a lot about that one rumor growing in a snowball effect, and she can't shake it. She feels getting voted “best ass” started that reputation. Public objectification gave some boys one more excuse to treat her like a thing.

Peters: It wasn't a deliberate decision, for me, to choose a female protagonist. This story began and ended with Daelyn Rice. Body image is what girls are frequently bullied about, or feel the most self-conscious about, so Daelyn's hypersensitivity to her weight seemed a perfect fit for a book about bullycide.

It's interesting to note how Jay correctly states that more girls attempt suicide; however, according to the statistics I read, more boys actually complete the act. Bullycide doesn't discriminate.

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Bott: How did you prepare yourself to write these books?

Peters: I searched the Internet for everything I could find about suicide methods, first of all. I was shocked by how easy it is to find step-by-step instructions on how to kill yourself. Beyond that, I found bully boards and other online communities where members talk about how they intend to channel their rage. Eventually internalized rage, or bullycide, came up, and I focused on it exclusively—the how, what, and why. By the end of the book, I'd collected a crate full of research notes.

Asher: Rarely do suicidal thoughts come out of the blue because of one incident. For many people, it's a gradual loss of hope. Up until they make the decision to end their lives, most people want to live. But sometimes the downward slide is so long, they can't imagine a life without harassment or whatever else is causing their pain. I consciously did very little research to prepare for the book other than speaking with my relative who attempted suicide. I wanted Hannah's emotions to lead the story, rather than shape the story to fit any statistics I came across. After I finished the first draft, I did a lot of book and online research. Thankfully I discovered that Hannah did follow a very common emotional arc of a suicidal person, and I added some additional elements to highlight certain signs of a suicidal person.

Bott: What was the hardest part to write?

Asher: Near the end, Hannah gives up on herself. She gives in to her reputation because that's easier than fighting anymore. The closer I got to writing that scene, the more nervous I became. It was an important scene, but I didn't want to write it. I kept hoping that somehow Hannah would pull through. It was very painful to allow her to give up.

Peters: Two parts: the helplessness of Daelyn's parents to know how to help their damaged daughter, and the ending.

Bott: Have you known anyone who committed suicide because of bullying? If you have, did that influence you?

Peters: I have known people, young and old, who have committed suicide, but they didn't confide their deepest feelings to me. What influenced me most to write this book was being on a panel with you, C. J., and hearing you speak so passionately against bullying. People hear the word so often they almost become immune to it, to the impact on a young person's self-esteem throughout her or his entire life. If we are lucky, we wake up one day and say, “I get it. I finally get it.”

Asher: While figuring out Hannah's reasons, I spoke to several girls about their high school experiences. Every one of them discussed the difficult emotions stemming from hearing rumors spread about them. Personally I never thought of rumors as an aspect of bullying until I wrote this book, but they definitely are.

Bott: Given the subject, I would expect there to be attacks made on your books. Jay, has your book had any threats of censorship? Julie, because your book will [not] be released until 2010, have you or your publisher prepared for this possibility?

Asher: Attacks pop up occasionally, and I do understand why people are uncomfortable with the subject matter. But that's exactly why books like mine and Julie's are so important. Our society does a horrible job of discussing things that are uncomfortable. But if we sweep those issues under the rug, someone dealing with those emotions won't know where to turn for help. Or they'll be afraid to ask for help. Usually censors are simply afraid of what they “think” teens will get out of the book. Their thought process, of course, never leads them to find out what teens are actually getting out of the book. I've had many teens tell me they wouldn't be alive had they not read my book. Thank God no one stepped between them and Hannah's story.

Peters: I've learned over the years that you don't know what kinds of letters you're going to receive about your books. You may brace for an onslaught that never happens and end up regretting all the life energy you wasted worrying, so I'm taking a “wait and see” approach.

Bott: Can we conclude with the voices of those who have written to each of you?

Peters: Here are excerpts from two that broke my heart:

“I've had a pretty rough time coming out… I reached out for help and advice from an adult when I started getting beaten up pretty badly. She was my teacher. I guess she didn't want to deal with my messed up situation. The next time I got beat up I was hospitalized with a broken arm, broken nose, and severe concus sion. I told my mom. We filed a restraining order against two of the guys. They came back. Raped me. And now they're both in juvie. To put it bluntly it's too hard to still write about.” KatPage 290  |  Top of Article“Is it possible for someone to be loveless? I think that's what I am, seeing that no one talks to me. I don't blame them. I'm tall, not the thinnest, and I'm odd with my big eyes (I'm cursed). I know it's kind of weird for you to answer this, but I just wonder so much.” Stacie

Asher: Yes, here are several

“The truth is that this book has saved my life. This past October, I was in a pretty bad place. I swallowed about eighty Tylenol according to the doctors. But somehow, I survived and am perfectly healthy. When I was laying there, I kept thinking what I would do next. I came up with a couple of different ways I could have ended it, no chance to be saved. But then I started reading Thirteen Reasons Why. It gave me the hope I needed to get where I am today. I can honestly credit the fact that I am still alive to you and your amazing novel. Thank you so much. For everything.”

“For the past couple years I have actually been struggling with the thought of suicide, and everything you mentioned and portrayed were so accurate; the rumors, the boys, the drama, everything. And it makes me feel so much bet ter knowing that someone understands. I just wanted to let you know that your book gave me hope. It made me realize that no matter how much you think no one is there, they might be the person you least expect. And I want to thank you for helping make a difference in my life.”

I've also heard from people who say the book made them reach out to people in trouble.

“[Your book] made me pick up the phone and call a girl who I knew for a fact was well on her way to meet your character Hannah's fate and made her talk everything out with me. I skipped dinner and talked to her [for] four hours and I wouldn't let it go until she told me everything. So thank you for putting down a story that involves something that hap pens all the time, people not helping each other and letting things slide. Thank you for giving me the drive to help someone else.”

Source: C. J. Bott, Julie Anne Peters, and Jay Asher, “Bullied to Death: An Interview with Julie Anne Peters and Jay Asher,” in Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), Vol. 32, No. 5, December 2009, pp. 366 69.

Kirkus Reviews

In the following review, the anonymous reviewer calls Thirteen Reasons Why a “mesmerizing debut.”

“Everything affects everything,” declares Hannah Baker, who killed herself two weeks ago. After her death, Clay Jensen—who had a crush on Hannah—finds seven cassette tapes in a brown paper package on his doorstep. Listening to the tapes, Hannah chronicles her downward spiral and the 13 people who led her to make this horrific choice. Evincing the subtle—and not so subtle—cruelties of teen life, from rumors, to reputations, to rape, Hannah explains to her listeners that, “in the end, everything matters.” Most of the novel quite literally takes place in Clay's head, as he listens to Hannah's voice pounding in his ears through his headphones, creating a very intimate feel for the reader as Hannah explains herself. Her pain is gut-wrenchingly palpable, and the reader is thrust face-first into a world where everything is related, an intricate yet brutal tapestry of events, people and places. Asher has created an entrancing character study and a riveting look into the psyche of someone who would make this unfortunate choice. A brilliant and mesmerizing debut from a gifted new author.

Source: Review of Thirteen Reasons Why, in Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2007.

Johanna Lewis

In the following review, Lewis calls Thirteen Reasons Why “irresistible” because of its quick pace and intense emotion.

High school senior Clay Jensen receives seven audiotapes in the mail. They contain the story of why Hannah Baker, a girl he adored, committed suicide. Each side is devoted to a person in her life and a reason for her death. Clay also has a map of places featured on the recordings. He spends a torturous night listening and wandering, unearthing the depth and causes of Hannah's unhappiness. His torment is private—how did he hurt a girl he treasured from afar—and empathic—her hurts and betrayals tear him apart. Clay's pain is palpable and exquisitely drawn in gripping, casually poetic prose. The complex and soulful characters expose astoundingly rich and singularly teenage inner lives, with emotions as raw as cut wrists. The mood is more serious than somber, and Clay's thoughtful synthesis of Hannah's increasingly explosive narrative saves the novel from melodrama, ha fact, Hannah's and Clay's narratives are woven together so seamlessly that the Page 291  |  Top of Articlecharacters appear to converse naturally from opposite sides of mortality. Compounded, the tapes build the plot in increasingly tense increments-Hannah's story is a freight train of despair aim suspense that picks up speed as it moves to her final undoing. Like the protagonist in John Green's Looking for Alaska ( Dutton, 2005 ), Hannah is an animate ghost; Clay's bereaved voice bears witness to her tragedy. The episodic structure is nicely suited to reluctant readers, but the breakneck pace and dizzying emotion are the true source of this novel's irresistible readability at all levels.

Source: Johanna Lewis, Review of Thirteen Reasons Why, in School Library Journal, Vol. 53, No. 11, Novem ber 2007, p. 116.

Myrna Marler

In the following review, Marler describes the novel's structure as “cumbersome and confusing.”

Suicide is a leading cause of death in teens. Some leave notes to explain. Others exit leaving only their bodies behind. The suicide in this book secretly bequeaths 13 tapes to be passed on to 13 persons explaining the connected reasons why she chooses death. The recipient and protagonist of this novel is 16-year-old Clay Jensen, who claims at the beginning that he hardly knew Hannah. takes hours to listen to these tapes as well as to follow the map Hannah has conveniently provided so each recipient can examine the spot of her humiliation, disillusion or betrayal. Yet, inexplicably (there is the vague threat that if the recipient doesn't listen, the tapes will be made public in some unspecified way), each recipient follows Hannah's instructions. The reasons combine finally into two: people's indifference to the sufferings of others, and that girls are often treated badly by insensitive boys who think of them as objects or conquests. Well, these are facts of life to keep in mind when trying to live honorably and alleviating the pain of others. Nevertheless, the framework of this story is cumbersome and confusing; the suspense is manufactured (at periodic strategic intervals Clay has to take off his headphones); the cast of characters is dizzying, and the intent of Hannah's tapes is to send all the recipients on a giant guilt trip, trips most people aren't willing to take. And all in all, Hannah's 13 reasons don't add up to a good enough reason for her mysterious death. But then, other people's reasons for suicide never do seem justifiable to observers. The message that people should try harder to take care of each other is good, but in spite of the book's unique structure, it sure takes Clay a while to figure it out.

Source: Myrna Marler, Review of Thirteen Reasons Why, in Kliatt, Vol. 41, No. 6, November 2007, p. 6.

SOURCES

Asher, Jay, Thirteen Reasons Why, Razorbill, 2007.

Bromann, Katrina, Review of Thirteen Reasons Why, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Vol. 61, No. 3, November 2007, p. 128.

Brunner, Rob, “Why Teen Suicide Novel Thirteen Rea sons Why Is Saving Lives: An Interview with Jay Asher,” in Entertainment Weekly, January 18, 2015, http://www.ew.com/article/2011/06/13/jayasherthirteenreasonswhy (accessed April 23, 2015).

Gillis, Bryan, Review of Thirteen Reasons Why, in Jour nal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Vol. 54, No. 7, April 2011, pp. 542, 545.

Rich, Motoko, “A Story of a Teenager's Suicide Quietly Becomes a Best Seller,” in New York Times, March 10, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/featured_articles/20090312thursday.html (accessed April 23, 2015).

Wolk, Steven, “What Should Students Read?,” in Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 91, No. 7, April 2010, pp. 8 16.

FURTHER READING

Bantock, Nick, Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence, Raincoast Books, 1991.

A beautifully illustrated epistolary novel (writ ten as a series of letters), this book is, like Thirteen Reasons Why, a dual voiced story that explores a journey, in this case toward a new level of understanding reality and the power of love.

Bornstein, Kate, Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws, Seven Sto ries Press, 2006.

Written by transsexual trailblazer Kate Born stein, this book is part personal memoir and part humor filled guide for those who feel iso lated, ostracized, or misunderstood by those around them. The guiding messages are univer sal and optimistic: never be mean and embrace difference.

Eugenides, Jeffrey, The Virgin Suicides, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993.

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This is a another first person plural novel, told from the perspectives of a group of boys who become infatuated with a household of sisters who commit suicide one by one. The seemingly random acts send the suburban paradise of Grosse Point, Michigan, into an uproar and sets a group of young men on a path of self discovery that changes forever their under standing of the world around them.

Lambert, Alix, Mentor, Wider Film Projects, 2014.

Mentor is a feature length documentary that takes a direct and unflinching look at the prob lem of bullying and teen suicide in the United States. Focusing on the town of Mentor, Ohio, Lambert shows how a place that has twice been voted one of the top one hundred places to live in the United States has been hiding a long and deadly tradition of bullying, intimidation, and teen suicide. At its heart, this is a tragic film about the politics of appearances and the lengths that people will go to in order to protect traditions regardless of the human cost involved

SUGGESTED SEARCH TERMS

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gossip AND fiction

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Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
Asher, Jay. "Thirteen Reasons Why." Novels for Students, edited by Sara Constantakis, vol. 51, Gale, 2016, pp. 272-292. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com%2Fps%2Fi.do%3Fp%3DGVRL%26sw%3Dw%26u%3Dgale%26v%3D2.1%26id%3DGALE%257CCX3627800024%26it%3Dr%26asid%3D893e56828aad0a052ab796fdb459850b. Accessed 22 Nov. 2017.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3627800024