There are some books that, as an adult, you think: if only every teenager would read this and take it to heart, maybe things would be different. The subject of teenage suicide is a difficult one, but Asher tackles it head on with an engaging premise that not only hooks you from the first page, but drags you along through the trainwreck to follow. And by trainwreck, I mean Hannah Baker's life.
High school student Clay Jensen comes home to find a package waiting for him. Inside are a bunch of cassette tapes. He's able to listen to these antiquated recordings thanks to the old cassette player in the garage. Curious, he pops one in and hears the voice of a girl he'd crushed on for years. A girl who committed suicide a few weeks before.
Hannah Baker has left a detailed suicide note in the form of these tapes, and on them are her 13 reasons why she's decided to end her life. The people involved (each star in their own personal cassette side) are told pointedly by Hannah how they contributed to her downfall.
After listening to all the stories on the tapes, they are instructed to send them on to the next person. Hannah has even taken steps to ensure everyone hears her words by making a second set, which will be publicly released if the tapes don't continue their journey to the end.
Clay is stunned. He can't imagine what he could have done to Hannah to be included on this horrific list. But he's compelled to listen, not simply because it is required, but because he's desperate to understand why Hannah did what she did.
Asher tells the story alternating between Clay's first person POV and Hannah's voice on the tapes, and the result is captivating. The audio edition, which I listened to, was mesmerizing in the performances and that you feel as if you are listening along with Clay.
But back to the importance of this book. High school is not the easiest time in anyone's life, and even for the privileged and popular, it can be tough. Struggling with self-discovery, it's too easy to overlook the little things we do to each other that can be hurtful. If this story does anything, it points out that everyone has a chance to make another's life better, or worse. Everything affects everything.
Hannah's downward spiral is slow and painful, and listening to it is, as I said, like watching a trainwreck happen before your very eyes (or ears). Clay's anguish and helplessness are palpable and while the ending does offer some hope, most of this book is horribly depressing. But it should be. A story about someone ending their own life absolutely should be depressing, and teenagers in particular need to always remember that small kindnesses can be a glimmer of hope to someone in pain.
While that sounds preachy, Asher's book is anything but. One of the many reasons why 13 Reasons Why should be required reading for high school freshmen. This story has stuck with me for days now, I keep thinking about how high school really hasn't changed that much since I was there -- and that the human element of the way certain people are treated never seems to change. Asher captures this so well through the voices of both Hannah and Clay.
A strong 4 bookmarks.