Book Review

The last words on Hannah’s audiotapes ….

“A lot of you cared, just not enough. And that … that is what I needed to find out.

And I did find out.

And I’m sorry.”  (Asher, pg. 280).

Hannah Baker has committed suicide but not before making and mailing a shoe box of audiotapes explaining the events that led her to overdose on pills.  There are seven tapes. Each side is labelled with a number one through fourteen (the fourteenth side is blank). Thirteen people are the intended recipients of the tapes.  When they receive Hannah’s shoe box in the mail they are instructed to listen to all the tapes and then mail them on to the person whose name is mentioned after theirs.  Hannah refers to the stories on the tapes as the “anthology of her life” and she tells a disturbing tale of betrayal, lust, selfishness, deceit, violence and callous disregard.  Hannah’s stories also tell of missed opportunities and how everyday decisions can have serious repercussions.

Thought provoking, disturbing and insightful, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is a book that isn’t soon forgotten. The book begins with Clay Jenson, an honor student with a reputation for being a nice guy, finding a package wrapped in brown paper with no return address propped against his front door.  It is the shoe box with Hannah’s tapes.  Two stories then unfold simultaneously, Hannah’s and Clay’s.  As Clay listens to the tapes he follows a map Hannah left behind and visits the sites where her ending began.  In between Hannah’s voice telling her story, Clay reveals his own memories and emotions regarding Hannah and the events on her tape.  The contrasting narratives grab the reader’s attention and keep the story moving quickly to a predictable but satisfying conclusion.

This book should be on the list of recommended reading for high school freshman.  Perhaps it could even be a selection for an entire incoming class of freshman to read and discuss the first month of school.  The message contained in this book, that even seemingly insignificant actions can have far-reaching consequences, is an important one for adolescents.  One cautionary note, due to the seriousness of the topic, teachers would have to be sensitive to student reactions as well as skillful at leading the book discussions.