Wow. Where to start? I’ve just finished reading my Advance Reading Copy of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why.
The voice, the plotting, the pacing, the writing are every bit as compelling as I’d expected and hoped. In other words, it’s a great read.
But that’s not The Thing.
The Thing about this book is how skillfully it filters the high school experience through the perceptions of a suicidal teen.
Jay depicts the story of Hannah Baker with an awful honesty. We learn of her problems, her pain and her ultimate despair through her suicide “note,” a 13-part collection of audiotapes. We get a second perspective through the thoughts of Clay Jensen, a classmate of Hannah who has received the tapes.
This dual viewpoint brings a fascinating complexity to the story. We are reminded that in high school, perhaps more than anywhere else, perception is reality.
For example, how could a classroom note viewed by Clay and others as a silly, innocent joke send Hannah down a path of desolation? Who’s right? Does it matter?
If Clay had stood up for Hannah when others were being unkind, or if he had reached out to her at some point to let her know he cared, would she still be alive?
The book manages to raise these difficult questions without blaming the survivors, without excusing Hannah for making the ultimate decision to end her own life.
Last night, partway through reading the book, I saw a report on a rash of suicides in Ireland. There has been some speculation that these deaths are part of a suicide pact, and that there may be more to come. What takes people to such depths? How can we as individuals and as a society intervene?
13 Reasons Why reminds us that the way we treat each other does matter.
I think Jay’s book could become a top seller because of its high-concept hook. It could become the Blair Witch Project of YA novels, where word of mouth among teens sends kids flocking to the bookstores to see what all the fuss is about.
But even more important, the book could lead some of those teens to reach out to friends or classmates they sense might need help, or to seek help for themselves.