by Maeve O’Brien
In a haunting tale following the aftermath of a teenage suicide, Thirteen Reasons Why echoes messages of depression and adolescent relationships. The Young Adult Drama, penned by Jay Asher, follows Clay Jensen, an introverted high school student who receives a set of tapes, recorded by Hannah Baker, a fellow classmate who committed suicide. The tapes send Clay on a journey to unravel the motives behind Hannah’s suicide, and to discover his role in her life. After the novel’s release on October 18, 2007 by RazorBill, it received Best Book for Young Adults in 2008 and reached #1 on the New York Time’s bestseller list in 2011.
Asher’s realistic writing resonates with young adult readers and allows them to crawl inside the mind of a vulnerable teenager who takes her own life. Hannah’s tapes include her sarcastic and blunt commentary topped off a twinge of humor, which at first feels uncomfortable given the grave situation. Although the plot seems far removed from an average teenagers life, the shockingly normal characters posses insecurities that every adolescent can identify with. Clay’s feelings of regret and guilt, along with Hannah’s internal struggle of helplessness, allow the reader to relate to the emotions of the characters.
Perhaps the most perplexing element of the storyline is how the unfortunate encounters that build up to Hannah’s suicide are just that- unfortunate, and far from catastrophic. Since Hannah’s adolescent life lacked the major devastation that one would expect, Asher proves a point about the complexity of Depression and the tumultuous internal struggles it involves. Hannah’s actions were impacted by how others treated her, regardless of the degree of their misconduct. The dark yet revealing theme of Thirteen Reasons Why indicates societal change in the treatment of others.
In a sea of cliche, far-fetched romance novels filled with recycled material, Thirteen Reasons Why stands out with its dark theme and original storyline. Although it lacks the romantic appeal of John Greene’s The Fault in Our Stars or Looking for Alaska, Thirteen Reasons Why draws the readers in with a compelling mystery. It still focuses on relationships, but more of the importance of friendship and treatment of others. The book became a smashing success for Asher’s first novel, and it eventually outshone all other competitors when it peaked at #1 on the New York Time’s bestseller list.
Not only is Thirteen Reasons Why original, complex, and meaningful, but memorable as well. The story comes full circle at the end, with Clay reaching out to a girl that seems alone and fragile, as Hannah was during her last few days alive. Clay’s not the only one who takes away from the tapes that Hannah leaves, but the reader as well. The theme preaches kindness, forgiveness, consideration, and perspective. Asher’s artistic voice and character development draw the readers into a spiraling story filled with adolescent mystery and the inner-workings of suicide.
Image by RazorBill