In Jay Asher’s debut novel Thirteen Reasons Why, the author tackles the issue of teen suicide.
In the book, the character Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several 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.
The book was published by RazorBill, a young adult imprint of Penguin Books. The paperback edition hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in July 2011. In May 2011, a website called 13RWProject.com launched where fans of the book can record their reviews and experiences as text, photo or video.
“A shoebox-sized package is propped against the front door at an angle. Our front door has a tiny slot to shove mail through, but anything thicker than a bar of soap gets left outside. A hurried scribble on the wrapping addresses the package to Clay Jensen, so I pick it up and head inside. I take the package into the kitchen and set it on the counter. I slide open the junk drawer and pull out a pair of scissors. Then I run a scissor blade around the package and lift off its top. Inside the shoebox is a rolled-up tube of bubble-wrap. I unroll that and discover seven loose audiotapes. Each tape has a dark blue number painted in the upper right-hand corner, possibly with nail polish. Each side has its own number. One and two on the first tape, three and four on the next, five and six, and so on. The last tape has a thirteen on one side, but nothing on the back. Who would send me a shoebox full of audiotapes? No one listens to tapes anymore. Do I even have a way to play them? The garage! The stereo on the workbench. My dad bought it at a yard sale for almost nothing. It’s old, so he doesn’t care if it gets coated with sawdust or splattered with paint. And best of all, it plays tapes. I drag a stool in front of the workbench, drop my backpack to the floor, then sit down. I press Eject on the player. A plastic door eases open and I slide in the first tape.”
What is revealed are the people who have influenced her decision to commit suicide. The book was challenged for obscene language and sexually explicit themes.
Asher’s book provokes discussion on the issues that lead up to suicide, including social isolation and bullying and brings the reader face to face with often uncomfortable truths about ourselves and how we interact with others.
Told via audiotapes, the narrative takes Clay along the path walked walked by Hannah and brings to light the often painful truths behind her death.
Thirteen Reasons Why should be must reading on the adolescent book list.