I'm going to break my rule of doing two book reviews in one night because this one? Is a must read. I don't care if you never read another book again, read this one. I don't care if you don't like to read at all, read this one. If you have a child, you need to read this book. If you have been touched by the loss of someone who has committed suicide, you need to read this book. If you have treated someone badly, not apologized for something you thought maybe you should have handled differently, or you think your actions (however meaningless to you) don't effect others, you need to read this book. I am not kidding when I tell you this will change your perspective in life.
Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher
When Clay Jenson plays the cassette tapes he received in a mysterious package, he's surprised to hear the voice of dead classmate Hannah Baker. He's one of 13 people who receive Hannah's story, which details the circumstances that led to her suicide. Clay spends the rest of the day and long into the night listening to Hannah's voice and going to the locations she wants him to visit. The text alternates, sometimes quickly, between Hannah's voice (italicized) and Clay's thoughts as he listens to her words, which illuminate betrayals and secrets that demonstrate the consequences of even small actions. Hannah, herself, is not free from guilt, her own inaction having played a part in an accidental auto death and a rape. The message about how we treat one another, although sometimes heavy, makes for compelling reading. Give this to fans of Gail Giles psychological thrillers.
I don't want to give away all of the reasons why this book has made such an impact in my life but I will tell you that since finishing it about a week ago I have not been able to stop thinking about it. As the above paragraph says, this book is basically the self given eulogy of a teenage girl who commits suicide. The thirteen people who receive these tapes all played a part in her ultimate decision to end her life. She not only talks about her own experiences and failures, but she talks about how others failed her.
The sad and very tragic reality is that there are so many kids going through the exact same things. What starts off as her first kiss which then snowballs into the boy saying they did much more and you know how that ball will roll, you see the actions of other students and how she internalizes them. You can read this book and put these character's names and faces to real people you know with no trouble at all and maybe that's what is so disturbing.
But what I really appreciated about this book is that not only does it talk about the students (and in one instance, staff) who did terrible things to this poor girl for the sake of being cruel for fun, but I think it highlights an even larger problem that "society" overlooks- the bystanders. Especially in the news as of late we are hearing of bullying at its worst and while it's easy to target a bully and say- he's a bad kid or target a victim and say- you shouldn't be like that and you won't get picked on, what about the kids who just stand there and watch it happen? I can't remember what show it was on but a commentator mentioned that when people, but mostly parents, say, "What is wrong with society?" in relation to bullying- you should be looking at your own kid. Maybe you're lucky and your kid isn't being picked on or isn't the bully- but they probably know someone in either or both roles and yet they do nothing to stop it. What's wrong with them?
We are living in a generation that has the potential to do such extraordinary things that others will study in history books in the future but we won't get there when you have people treating each other like they do. There is really something wrong when two people can't get married when they are in love based on their genders being the same. The sheer ridiculousness of that astounds me. The fact that people feel like they should be able to control that kind of thing boggles my mind. The fact that you have kids bullying kids based on their economic standing in the community. Really- the kid dresses badly because he's poor not because he has nothing worthwhile to offer someone. Yet we teach our children that these kinds of biases are OK.
Something else that just pulled at my heart as a parent is how Hannah talks about how her parents had no clue that she was feeling this way because they were dealing with their own financial crisis and stress. How many of us stay up at night worrying about our bills, how we'll make ends meet, things that are coming up, etc? Of those people, how many of you have really been able to sit down with your kid and talk to them about their life. Can anyone really say who their child's friends are, who they don't get along with, why, who they sit with at lunch, what their insecurities are, etc? Very few. I would bet my next paycheck that very few of you can really do that with your child. In the book Hannah talks about one of her classes had bags with student's names on them and fellow students can put positive comments in them anonymously and how she looked forward to them. Those end up being her last lifeline to feeling good about herself but then another student ruins even that for her.
This book challenges you and how you deal with others. You might think the revengeful or "I'll teach her" moment is not a big deal, but you don't know how many more of those are happening to a person at that same time. It might be your one act that tips them over the edge. It makes you ask yourself is it worth it? Is it worth ignoring a friend over a miscommunication? Over something you could be completely wrong about because you made an assumption and never asked for yourself.
I think this book should absolutely be required reading for parents, for teenagers, for teachers, for those who help any of these people day to day. It is so tragic and your heart will break because you know you know someone like this.