Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
I read this novel not long ago and have been thinking of it over the past several days—since it was reported in the news that a gay teen had killed himself after his roommate posted a sexually explicit video of him on YouTube.
This is the story of a teen suicide, though the girl who kills herself isn’t gay. However, her private life is the gossip of her schoolmates and she is bullied by some. She has a bad reputation that she didn’t earn. Before killing herself, she wants to set the record straight and so makes audiotapes of the ‘thirteen reasons why’ she is going to kill herself—and these thirteen reasons involve her classmates and a teacher.
The story opens with Clay Jenson coming home from school to find a package on this porch. It’s addressed to him but has no return address. When he opens it, he finds seven audiotapes that have been recorded by Hannah Baker—a girl he’d had feelings for, but who had committed suicide two weeks earlier. Each side of a tape gives details about one of the reasons Hannah decided to take her life. She says that the tapes are only going to the people who are on them—and if someone doesn’t send them on to the next person, there is a second set of tapes that will be released to the whole school, blowing everyone’s cover.
Clay is riveted as he listens to Hannah’s story—he cared for her and wants to know what he could possibly have done that he should be included in the tapes.
The thing that grabbed me, as the reader, was Hannah’s description of the ‘snowball’ effect—it seems that none of the things that happened to her would have caused a girl to commit suicide. Yet altogether, I could see the pattern of behaviors that was making her so desperate. I could also understand how some of the students who caused much of the problem wouldn’t have understood their part in her suicide—not in isolation.
This is a cautionary tale that is a perfect read during October, which is ‘Bullying Prevention Month.’ It reminds us of advice from Plato that is thousands of years old—because we all fail in this regard and need to be reminded—“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”