email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
The Creek"Who Could That Be at This Hour?"100 Things Guys Need to Know3 NBS of Julian Drew3 Willows33 Minutes47A Company of FoolsA Corner Of The UniverseA Crack In The LineA Frog ThingA Great and Terrible BeautyA Monster CallsA Monster CallsA Northern LightA Step From HeavenA Step Toward FallingA Stir of BonesA Tragic Kind of WonderfulA Walk in the Rain With a BrainA Wish for Wings That WorkAdam Canfield of the SlashAfterAlice MacLeod, Realist at LastAll Rivers Flow to the SeaAll SoulsAll the Bright PlacesAll the WayAll Unquiet ThingsAmerican GirlsAmong the HiddenAmong the ImpostorsAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of a MisfitAngus, Thongs and Full-Frontal SnoggingAnnie's BabyAnything Could HappenAristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle and the Secrets of LifeArizona KidArtemis FowlAs Simple as SnowAssessment and Treatment of Childhood Problems, Second EditionAt the End of WordsAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBad Girls ClubBad RatsBang!Beating HeartBeauty QueensBecause of Winn-DixieBefore I DieBefore I FallBetween Mom and JoBeyond MagentaBig Mouth & Ugly GirlBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBlack HelicoptersBlack-eyed SuzieBlind SightBog ChildBoy Kills ManBoy ProofBoysBoys Are DogsBoys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking BootsBraceBrainstormBrave HeartsBreakfast Served AnytimeBreaking PointBronx MasqueradeBruisesBrushing Mom's HairBrutalBurnCatalystCathy's BookCathy's KeyCaveat EmptorCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryCharlie and the Great Glass ElevatorChild Insanity in England, 1845-1907Children and the Politics of SexualityChildren's RightsCity of CannibalsCity of HalvesClaiming Georgia TateClawsClay's WayConfessions of a Teenage Drama QueenConfessions of an Angry GirlContentious IssuesCoralineCountry Girl, City GirlCrispinCrossesCruise ControlCulture and Conflict in Child and Adolescent Mental HealthCut Both WaysDancing in My NuddypantsDani Bennoni: Long May He LiveDead Little Mean GirlDear Zoe,Define NormalDeliriumDeliverance From EvilDestination UnexpectedDirty Little SecretsDiscovering Pig MagicDivaDivergentDoing ItDown the Rabbit HoleDrawing a BlankDuck! Rabbit!Ellison the ElephantEmma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a TreeEmpress of the WorldEscape Under the Forever SkyEvery Exquisite ThingEvery Little Thing in the WorldEverything Is FineEverything on a WaffleFacelessFacts About ADHD ChildrenFade to BlackFade to BlueFaith, Hope, and Ivy JuneFaking NormalFans of the Impossible LifeFeather BoyFile Under: 13 Suspicious IncidentsFinallyFinding H. F.FiregirlFirst CrossingFlashcards of My LifeForbiddenForest of the PygmiesFoxFreak the MightyFreaky Green EyesFree?FreewillFrictionGeektasticGentlemenGeography ClubGeorgeGeorge's Marvelous MedicineGetting Over Garrett DelaneyGhost at the WindowGirl PartsGirls Acting CattyGirls in PantsGirlsourceGLBTQGoing BovineGood GirlsGoodbye RuneGossip GirlGotta Get Some Bish Bash BoshGranny Torrelli Makes SoupGutsHamletHandbook for BoysHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHarmlessHarry the Hypno-potamusHate ListHear Us Out!HeartbeatHeartbeatHeroHippie ChickHitler's DaughterHonor GirlHootHow to Build a HouseHumanism, What's That?Hurt Go HappyI Am Not Joey PigzaI Donít Want to be CrazyI Need You More Than I Love You and I Love You To BitsI Saw It HappenIf a Tree Falls at Lunch PeriodIf I StayIf We KissIn the Company of CraziesInvincibleIt Happened to NancyIt Was A Dark And Silly NightIt's Me!It's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalJacob's LadderJakarta MissingJake RileyJames and the Giant PeachJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, ElizabethJoey Pigza Loses ControlJoey Pigza Swallowed the KeyJokerJumping Off SwingsJumping the ScratchKeeping the MoonKeeping Your Child in MindKids Gone WildKidYogi - Yoga for ChildrenKim: Empty InsideKiss of Broken GlassKissing in AmericaKissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)Knocked Out by My Nunga-NungasLast CallLast DecemberLeaping BeautyLemony SnicketLess Than PerfectLiarLittle ChicagoLizard LoveLizard RadioLizzy's Do's and Don'tsLock and KeyLooking for BobowiczLooking for NormalLord of the FliesLoserLove and SexLove That DogLove, AubreyLucy in the SkyLukeís Way of LookingMadappleMade For YouMaking the RunMaking the RunMany StonesMapsMargaux with an XMary Pope Osborne's Tales from the OdysseyMichael Rosen's Sad BookMirrorMaskMolly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismMonsterMore Than a LabelMore Than FriendsMore Than FriendsMouse's First ValentineMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy HeartbeatMy One Hundred AdventuresMy Perfect LifeNastybookNo Right TurnNot As Crazy As I SeemNothingNothing But the TruthNothing PinkNow Playing: Stoner & Spaz IIOCDanielOlive My LoveOlive's OceanOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex GodOne Hot SecondOur Broken PiecesOut of BoundsOut of the DustPandemoniumPanic at Toad HallPaper TownsPaperweightPatrolPeachesPeriod PiecesPictures of Hollis WoodsPiggyPINSPlanet JanetPlanet PregnancyPlaying a PartPretty Girl-13Prince William, Maximilian Minsky & MePrincess in LovePrincess in the SpotlightPrisoner of Night and FogPrisoners Under GlassProject Sweet LifePsychotherapy with Adolescent Girls and Young WomenPuddlejumpersPunkzillaPurgeRainbow PartyRebuttalRequiemRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRevolting Rhymes & Dirty BeastsRosy Cole's Memoir ExplosionSabrielSaving GraceSay YesScatSchool of FearSee You at Harry'sSexuality in AdolescenceSexyShadows on the WallShatteredShelterShooterSide Effects May VarySilence is GoldfishSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSins of the FathersSix Impossible ThingsSkelligSmackSmall Avalanches and Other StoriesSolitaireSome Assembly RequiredSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful to YouSomeone Like YouSomething About AmericaSong for EloiseSophie Pitt-Turnbull Discovers AmericaSophie Spikey Has a Very Big ProblemSophomore SwitchSplit ScreenStartled by His Furry ShortsStone WaterStory of a GirlStuffSuffer the ChildrenSummer of the SkunksSurviving HitlerSweetheartsSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTargeting AutismTeaseTeen Angst? NaaahTeen TelevisionThat SummerThawThe 10 PM QuestionThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Actual Real Reality of Jennifer JamesThe Amnesia ClinicThe Arctic IncidentThe Artsy Smartsy ClubThe Bear MakersThe Beast of CretaceaThe BFGThe Big BurnThe Book of JudeThe Boy Who Climbed into the MoonThe Boy Who DaredThe Boyfriend ListThe Buffalo TreeThe Carnivorous CarnivalThe Case of the Case of Mistaken IdentityThe Cemetery BoysThe Chosen OneThe Clouds AboveThe Color of AbsenceThe Crazy Things Girls Do for LoveThe Dating GameThe Day Leo Said I Hate You!The DaydreamerThe Diary of a Killer CatThe Diary of Pelly DThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Dream BearerThe Dulcimer Boy The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round ThingsThe EndThe End of Our StoryThe Ersatz ElevatorThe Eternity CubeThe Eyes of van GoghThe Flight of a DoveThe Future of UsThe Geography of GirlhoodThe Geography of You and MeThe Ghost NetworkThe GiantessThe Great BrainThe Grim GrottoThe Heretic's DaughterThe Hookup ArtistThe Horse and His BoyThe Hostile HospitalThe Last Chance TexacoThe Last Time I DiedThe Last Time We Say GoodbyeThe Little TernThe Love Curse of the RumbaughsThe Lucky PlaceThe Memory of LightThe Men They Will BecomeThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Mystery of the Third LucretiaThe Naked Truth About SexThe Neil Gaiman Audio CollectionThe Opposite of InvisibleThe Order of the Poison OakThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Palace of LaughterThe PanopticonThe Penultimate PerilThe Porcupine of TruthThe PostcardThe Princess DiariesThe Rules of SurvivalThe Same Stuff as StarsThe Sands of TimeThe ScarThe Serious KissThe ShakeressThe Silent BoyThe Silly BookThe Sledding HillThe Slippery SlopeThe Snow SpeaksThe Spider and the BeeThe SpindlersThe StepsThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Tail of Emily WindsnapThe Teenage BrainThe Thief LordThe Thing About JellyfishThe Thought that CountsThe Treasure Map of BoysThe TwitsThe UninvitedThe View from SaturdayThe Vile VillageThe Virginity ClubThe WilloughbysThe Wish HouseThe Witch of Blackbird PondThe Witch's BoyThe Wolves in the WallsThe Wolves of AndoverThen Again, Maybe I Won'tThen He Ate My Boy EntrancersThey Broke the Law-You Be the JudgeThings I Have to Tell YouThirstyThirteen Reasons WhyThis Book Is Not Good For YouThis Burns My HeartThis Full HouseTime Stops for No MouseTransgender Children and YouthTrue BelieverTrue BelieverTruesightTurtles All the Way DownTwenty Boy SummerTwistedUnder Pressure and OverwhelmedUnder the Wolf, Under the DogUnder WildwoodVery Far Away from Anywhere ElseVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysWalking on GlassWastelandWatch Me Do YogaWe Are OkayWe're Not MonstersWelcome to the ArkWhale TalkWhat Comes AfterWhat HappenedWhat I Saw And How I LiedWhat the Birds SeeWhat Works for Bipolar KidsWhat Would Joey Do?What's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhen Jeff Comes HomeWhen Nothing Matters AnymoreWhen the Moon ComesWhen You Reach MeWhere She WentWhere The Kissing Never StopsWho Has What?Why Are You So Sad?WildwoodWill You, Won't You?Witch ChildWith Their EyesWolf on the FoldWonderlandWorlds ApartWurst Case ScenarioYogaYoga 4 TeensYou Hear MeYou Know You Love MeYou Look Different in Real LifeYour Body Is AwesomeZane's TraceZapZazoo
High school junior Hannah Baker recently killed herself. Now her classmate Clay Jenson gets a box full of cassette tapes that Hannah recorded for thirteen people. Each of them played a part in her decision to end it all. Clay is one of them. There are seven tapes, and each person has one side of a tape devoted to them. Clay listens to the tapes to find out what she says about him. He finds it a horrible, traumatic experience, learning about how other people treated Hannah, and worrying about what part he played in her suicide.
It turns out that as soon as she arrived in high school, and had her first kiss, the boy she kissed started spreading rumors about her. She got the reputation of a slut, and she couldn't do anything to shake it. She had other experiences of being sexually objectified, excluded by other people, and so she became increasingly isolated. By the time she got to know Clay, she was basically incapable of reaching out for help. On the occasions that she did reach out to others as she became increasingly desperate, other people failed to respond. Eventually she decides to kill herself, she makes the tapes, sends them out with instructions for them to be passed around the thirteen people, and she kills herself.
The story unfolds as Clay listens to the tapes over a 24 hour period. He starts out at home, and then he travels around town listening to the tapes on a walkman, visiting the places where the events happened. The unabridged audiobook consists of Clay's thoughts and the words of Hannah as she talks. The words of Clay and Hannah are read by Joel Johnstone and Debra Wiseman, which works well. Johnstone's performance is urgent and emotional, and Wiseman's is surprisingly calm and even ironic. Listening to the book is a gripping experience, especially if you are listening with headphones, because it helps one's identification with Clay as he listens to Hannah.
Author Jay Asher raises many issues of young women's experience, the role of reputation in high school, and the cruelty of teens. This is an unusual book that will stay with you for a long time. It highlights the seriousness of the issues it raises very effectively. Yet it requires a huge suspension of disbelief, since it is very unlikely that someone so close to suicide would remain so calm or be so organized as to make such eloquent tapes. In her planning her death and telling people what role they played in making her want to die, Hannah seems manipulative and scheming. Furthermore, Asher's depiction of her makes it seem that her treatment by her schoolmates and teachers is the full explanation of her suicide. Some boys spread lies about what she did with them, others grabbed at her body, girls were unkind, and teachers didn't help her enough. We hear very little about her family life; just that her parents had been going through major financial worries. Many people go through similar pressures without becoming clinically depressed, and certainly without killing themselves. This all makes the apparent explanation of Hannah's suicide insufficient. It may be true that if Hannah hadn't been treated badly by others, she wouldn't have killed herself, but there's enough in the story itself to suggest that the full explanation would have to say much more. Of course, in many cases where people kill themselves, we never completely understand why they did it. But there's a tension within Asher's narrative between the depiction of Hannah as very vulnerable to suffering that most other people cope with, and as an extremely articulate and resourceful person capable of planning out such an elaborate suicide note. Indeed, to some extent, Hannah seeks revenge on the people who hurt her, not through her suicide directly, but through the guilt she is able to induce with her tapes, and even the anger that the people who hear the tapes will have towards the other people she mentions. She is entitled to be angry, since she was treated badly by other people. The puzzle, however, is why if she was so capable of articulating her anger and feelings in the tapes, and able to plan out their recording and delivery to the people on them, is she not more capable to expressing herself and seeking help from those who would be sympathetic, such as her parents, teachers, counselors, or Clay himself. Her words do suggest some answers to that question, but none makes a lot of sense.
Some highly articulate, intelligent and resourceful people do kill themselves, and often it isn't clear why they think that is the best way they have to end their pain. Often people who attempt suicide and survive don't understand their own self-destructive thinking afterwards. So it is no surprise that Hannah's suicide is also mysterious. What is problematic in Thirteen Reasons Why is the impression the book gives that the explanation is transparent, and can be summed up in the actions of thirteen people.
Nevertheless, Asher's book is provocative and powerful. Clay's reaction to listening to Hannah is subtly drawn, as he reflects on what it means about his own actions and those of the people he hangs out with. Clay himself comes out as a sympathetic narrator, making it easier to get through the emotionally difficult and complex storyline. While the book isn't one that I'd recommend for people trying to make sense of suicide, it is one that should prompt useful discussion of the pressures of life in high school and the responsibilities of people to think about the effects of the way they behave towards each other.
© 2007 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.