Agent: Tiffani Willis
Agent Activities: Academic Librarian
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Where to Find Her: @passportbooks (Twitter)
Author(s): Jay Asher
Report Published: 19th July 2016
Thirteen Reasons Why is a young adult novel by Jay Asher about a teenage girl named Hannah who has committed suicide and left a set of cassette tapes explaining why, along with a list of people she wants to listen to the tapes. With one exception, the people Hannah has decided to inflict her audio suicide note on are the people she feels either contributed to the problems in her life or who committed other bad acts that harmed someone else. (I won’t say who the exception is because that would be a spoiler.) The story opens with Hannah’s classmate Clay mailing the seven cassettes to the next person on the list.
Two, maybe three, of the people Hannah talks about committed acts for which criminal charges could have been brought. Most of the people on Hannah’s list, however, simply did the kinds of stupid, spiteful things teenagers have been doing to each other since there have been teenagers: spreading false rumors, purposely embarrassing others, and betraying confidences.
All that is horrible of course, but it is stuff that most people experienced at least once during the school days but eventually moved on from. Hannah doesn’t. Whether Thirteen Reasons Why is an exaggeration of suicide I can’t say. At the very least it serves as a reminder that actions have consequences, sometimes much more severe than we ever imagined. It also is a reminder to pay attention and to say something if you think someone might be having a hard time.
“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life.”
“No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.”
“If you hear a song that makes you cry and you don’t want to cry anymore, you don’t listen to that song anymore. But you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore. You can’t decide to turn off the noise in your head.”
There wasn’t just one QUAKE moment for me. Rather it was the story as a whole. More than anything, Thirteen Reasons Why made me think about the small ways people hurt one another, the small ways I can hurt another person. It is easy to see how constant physical or emotional abuse can damage a person. It is less easy to see how a single caustic remark, casually tossed out can inflict a significant wound. Most of the time it isn’t really just one remark that causes a deep wound, but that certain words on a particular day might be the final blow that pushes a person over the edge.
This book is clearly meant for teenagers. I read it as an adult and I haven’t come across too many other adults who liked it and I think I understand why. As an adult you want to tell Hannah to put things in perspective. You want to remind her that high school is a temporary. You want to advise her that there are ways to change her situation, starting with talking to someone, and then talking to someone else if the first didn’t listen. In some instances you might even want to tell her to get over it. But of course, teenagers don’t quite work that way. They haven’t had enough time and life experience that would enable them to put things in perspective. They don’t always think too far ahead. A single incident can send a person into a deep hole that they cannot fathom ever climbing out of. And so notwithstanding Hannah’s sometimes bratty and self-indulgent behavior, I understood and sympathized with her plight.
Thirteen Reasons Why reminded me to think before I speak. You never know what kind of day (or life) someone had before they run into you. Now it isn’t that I went around saying horrible things to people before I read this book or that I constantly self-censor, but reading this book did make me think about what I say a little more. Even if the salesperson calling me on the phone is annoying me or some person on the street is trying to stick a clipboard in my face while lecturing me on some political issue, I try to stay calm and respond politely (while still telling them no). I realize I am probably the tenth person telling them no. Having a job that requires dealing with that much rejection must be difficult; the least I can do is be polite about it. I can’t control other people but I can control myself and I would like to decrease the amount of negative energy I put out in the world. There’s enough there already.