13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
A Book Review
It takes a supreme piece of literary work for me to forfeit sleep to finish the last 80 pages of something I had only started the day before. I am also one that can normally put a book down and leave the characters and themes behind, but this novel haunted my dreams and thoughts during the day. Yet this novel is classified as young adult fiction, do not let that fool you. This literary masterpiece and winner of numerous awards should be mandatory reading for everyone, especially those who work in the mental health field, and for those who are struggling with similar issues.
The premise of this novel, without giving anything away, is that the main title character, Hannah Baker has committed suicide. Within the first few pages you discover this and that she left 13 reasons why she did on cassette types, which are dispersed to those people whom she feel played an active role in her decision to take her own life. While one could look at this as a teenager blaming her actions on others, this is not the case, but simply an exercise in understanding. The understanding that no matter how trivial it may seem to us, our actions affect others, and we may never know to what degree.
Again, even though this is classified as young adult fiction, it is a lesson that all of us can learn. This novel does it without being preachy or using an "I told you so" tone. It simply lets the reader learn this on their own terms while also wrapping you in mystery and intrigue awaiting "the final straw" that pushed Hannah to take her own life. Through this process the reader truly feels that they are part of the story and the visceral reactions of those listening to the tapes and learning how their tale intertwines with Hannah's. I also found myself hoping that this had all been a mistake and that Hannah was simply teaching them a lesson, and she was alive and mentally well somewhere.
With these reactions and lessons, I think it is a novel that all adults and adolescents 14 and over can appreciate. There are some descriptions of drunken parties, driving intoxicated, sexual encounters, and etc that younger crowds may not understand, let alone be able to connect to the overall story. Even with the outcome, i.e. suicide, I think that those suffering through depression and feeling lost could benefit. This novel does not suggest that suicide is the answer, but certainly helps us see how we can all affect the lives of others and how our next actions, or words, could be more critical than we could imagine.
***This book is available in paperback and electronic formats. It can be found in the teen, or young adult, sections of bookstores. There is also a website dedicated to this book where you can leave a review or read what others are saying and it is very powerful to hear what others, specifically teens, are saying about this book and how it affected them. The address is: www.13rwproject.com.