Thirteen Reasons Why was highly recommended by the owner of our local independent book store. My initial reaction was that a book elucidating the retrospective reflections of a teen named Hannah Baker who committed suicide was nothing more than another way for the machine of large publishing to push morose stories on an already angst-ridden teen audience. The book store owner assured me, however, that the story was well-constructed and poignant. I bought the book more out of curiosity than enthusiasm.
As usual for me, I didn’t read much about the book before beginning. The introduction, in which Clay Jensen, who had a crush on Hannah, mails a mysterious package to a classmate, did capture my interest. Author Jay Asher created a voice for the narrator that was both naturalistic and unselfconscious.
As for Hannah, the stories she posthumously revealed were mundanely realistic. The very quotidian nature of her complaints, however, caused me to become irritated with her maudlin reaction to every small insult. About halfway through the story, I asked myself “is this really it”? Could Hannah have actually killed herself over this sequence of embarrassing, but not devastating events? It took me some time to recognise this was part of the point.
My first realization in this regard had to do with the psychology of depression and adolescence. Hannah’s accounts of her “torturous” existence revealed her underlying assumption that every action of the other kids at school in regard to her was about her and that she was somehow central to the other students’ attention. In truth, it seemed that Hannah’s schoolmates were themselves too caught up in their own life stories to give much thought to Hannah and her experiences.
What I did not appreciate until near the end of the book was how little any of us (the reader, the narrator, the other kids at Hannah’s school) knew about Hannah Baker. Intermittently, Hannah referred to difficulties her family was having at home. She alluded to the fact that she had issues regarding financial instability, but she never elaborated enough to fulfill our desire to put additional context to her ultimate decision to end her life.
This last thought was what made the book haunt me for several days after reading it. It caused me to question the back story of everyone I encountered and to ask myself what I was contributing to the fabric of their day.
If anything, Thirteen Reasons Why gives teens the opportunity to evaluate the way in which their behaviors impact others and interact with other things in their lives that they neither have knowledge of nor understand. With so much education in the schools focused on bullying, I recommend Thirteen Reasons Why for teens to develop foresight in terms of their potential impact on others.