Published by Razorbill on October 18th 2007
Genres: Contemporary, Suspense, Young Adult
Buy on Amazon
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen 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.
First off, this is not a happy book. This is not a funny book. There is not the remotest bit of happiness to be found in it anywhere. Believe me, I’ve tried. It does not start positively. It does not end positively (well, that may be up to interpretation, but I’ll tell you this: I did not feel the least bit positive when I read the end).
So why would anyone want to read such a downer? Such a depressing book? Well that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I’m here to tell you.
Not every story is going to be a happy one. Not every story is going to have a happy ending. And more often than not, these stories…are the ones that are true. Life is not happy. It sucks, and then you die, as is the saying. We have to find- or make- our happiness. As Dumbledore said,
“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
For people like Hannah, the stories are awful. They may start off well, but in the end, it becomes too much to bear, and the benefit of death outweighs the potential benefit of life. These stories do not end well at all. For people like Hannah, these stories end in death.
But is it really a bad ending to the story? Maybe it’s a good ending, for her, at least. No more snowball effects.
And not a lot of people realize this. We think we do, but we can’t truly comprehend what it’s like unless we are like Hannah ourselves. We don’t know the extent of our actions.
And that brings me to what is probably the main point of this story: be nice and genuine to others because we don’t know what they’re going through. There’s a saying that goes around: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Socrates said that. You know what the battle is? Life. And it’s the hardest one of all.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
We can’t know how our actions will affect others, so it’s best to play it safe and obey the golden rule. This sounds like something we’d hear over the PA system at school. Some encouraging quote. My school is fond of this. But oh, how the meaning would change if we lost a classmate to suicide!
‘Lost.’ If we ‘lost.’ You know what that implies? That he or she was ours. Also that it was a tragic accident. You lose a pencil. You lose a contest. You don’t lose a classmate. And people say they have lost friends or family members. Same sort of deal. You didn’t lose them. If it was suicide, they chose to leave. (And if it wasn’t- well, Death simply came and said their time was up.)
The point I mean to make here is that oftentimes, a school will grieve over a suicide without even truly knowing the student. The person. This was the case here with Hannah. No one really knew the real her. Not even Clay, although he wanted the chance. He was scared.
The lesson he learned? Act now. Carpe diem. Tell people that you love them, because time is short. (But shout it at them in German, because life is also terrifying and confusing. I didn’t make that up; I read it online somewhere. But how true it is.) And this was evidenced by the end. But it was too late for Hannah.
I’m not sure. If I had to come up with advice for a school or person grieving someone who chose suicide, I’d say this: Let them go. And remember, wherever they are now, their battle is a much easier one than the one you are currently facing. Life is the hardest battle; death is an escape.
All in all, I think that Hannah’s story was hard one to hear, but a necessary one. I thought it was great that Clay and Hannah’s story wasn’t one of heartbreak, but of destroyed potential. One of possibility and lessons to learn. I’m glad that subjects like this can be tackled in a reasonable matter aimed at people of the age that this is most relevant to.
I was surprised how this book affected me. Given my history, I figured it would spike up my depression a bit. Well, a lot. But truthfully, it didn’t really, any more than usual. Nah, with depressing books I’m fine, but give me a mostly happy middle grade or somesuch book and I’ll immediately start contemplating the futility of life.
Did this book change my life? Not particularly. I’ll go on a bit more in my essay. But it did make me want to vomit a little. And I expect that’s the kind of reaction the book was hoping to get.