Review Wednesday: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I’ve been meaning to talk about 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher for nearly three years. It is one of the most moving books I’ve read, and it goes well with this month’s topic. I believe, quite simply, that it is the best book ever written about suicide.

Synopsis: Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.


I think that every teen should read this book. I think that everyone who works with teens or has teens or lives in the human race, possibly, should read this book. It’s about more than suicide. It is also, strongly, about the affects of sexual objectification, harassment, and assault. It’s possible that the teen boys who treat girls like pieces of meat don’t know how deeply that can affect them, so this book is for them. But it is, also, about suicide. About a girl who has given up hope, and about a good boy who wanted to help and couldn’t.

It’s not an easy book, but I think it’s important for everyone to read for a number of reasons. For anyone who works with teens, this book provides a roadmap of what to look for and listen for in students to indicate that they are considering suicide. Sudden changes of appearance, giving away possessions, actually reaching out for help and saying you feel hopeless. For non-suicidal students, it is an exercise in awareness-raising, how your words and deeds can affect someone else. And also, a call to have a little courage and go the extra mile when you can tell someone is struggling. But for suicidal students, and this might be the most powerful–and delicate–point to the book, it is a voice of reality saying you always have a choice.

The book is written as an extended suicide note interspersed between the narration of the boy who could have helped Hannah. Who wanted to help Hannah. Who was perhaps too cowardly, in the end, to help Hannah, but who would have been there if she’d tried. And she didn’t. Over and over he asks, while he listens, why she didn’t tell him. Why she didn’t get help. And he guesses the answer: she didn’t really want help.

No two people can ever know each other, really. We can never know what is going on in another’s life, or how another is feeling, or what they are really thinking about. But our lives are inextricably linked, nonetheless. And in each interaction, we have a choice: we can choose to listen, and we can choose to open up and speak. We can choose to connect. In the end, this book is a plea to do just that. If you are hurting: speak. If you are with someone who is hurting: listen.

Thanks for stopping by.




About pamwatts

Writer, Reader, and Children's advocate
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7 Responses to Review Wednesday: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

  1. I also appreciated this novel, but I know it’s controversial because it points fingers at the people in Hannah’s life who she believes drove her to take her life. I think some critics have objected to the “guilting” of family members and friends, the idea that if someone commits suicide, those around him or her didn’t do enough to stop it. However, this book raises valid points about the responsibility we have for each other and the fact that if Hannah had not been harassed and isolated she would still be alive. Regardless of where readers come down on this issue, the discussion of connection and responsibility is an important one.

    • pamwatts says:

      Huh. That’s an interesting perspective. Because it seems to me that the book shows both sides of the coin quite skillfully. Yes, it is Hannah’s suicide note, so it IS her pointing fingers at people. But it also shows through Clay’s narration that Hannah chose to view those events the way she did, that she chose to give up.

      I think it’s hard to talk about anything this delicate without people picking it apart, really. And maybe that’s a good thing because it generates dialogue. But the two essential points that these moments with other people really do affect us and that we each have a choice how we are going to take them (and what we are going to do with them) are important ones.

    • pamwatts says:

      OK, I’ve been thinking more about this, and I’m a little upset by this criticism actually.

      SPOILER ALERT: First off, there are no family and friends that are indicated. Her “suicide note” only includes two people who might be considered innocent. One of them she says is absolutely innocent. The other one, the teacher who didn’t stop her when she told him she wanted to end her life, well. . . .

      But the other people indicated in her decision to kill herself: a peeping tom, a rapist, a guy who enabled the rapist, and several other people who all engaged in some form of sexual harassment or another. I mean, maybe they don’t deserve to feel responsible for her taking her life, though it’s indicated in the text that they don’t. One says, “I didn’t do anything. She was just looking for an excuse to kill herself.”–This from a boy who groped her privates without her permission while other people looked on and did nothing.

      I guess I’m just a little bothered by this criticism.

  2. Pingback: Mental Illness Booklist for Teens | Strong in the Broken Places

  3. This book just came in the mail this week, it’s one I’ve been wanting to read for a while now. I’m so glad you did a review on it. The narration it uses sounds interesting.

    Is this a nonlinear novel? It sounds like it is, which I absolutely love so much. They’re my favorite.

  4. pamwatts says:

    Hi Amber! It’s sort of linear. Just read it and see!

  5. Pingback: Gender Book list | Strong in the Broken Places

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