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“Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher

I put off reading this YA title for a long time. It was on every must-read list last year and every time I read a review of it, I thought, I have to read that book. And, yet, I didn’t want to.

The premise: A girl, Hannah, sends off audio tapes of why she will kill herself to the 13 people who most affected her decision. The tapes are mailed (on the day she kills herself) to the first person first and then he/she must pass them on to the next. An acquaintance of Hannah has another set of tapes with the instructions to make all the tapes public -- to humiliate? to shame? -- them if the tapes are not listened to in their entirety by all 13.

We hear (read) the tapes at the same time Clay Jensen does. And he, just as much as Hannah, becomes the protagonist in the story. Clay is a good guy and though Hannah says she doesn’t blame him for her rotten high school experience, it’s clear that by including him in the set that he was part of the problem (because he wasn’t enough of a solution).

I have a 15-year-old son and a 12-year-old son. I went to high school and I remember it well. I had a rather easy time of it in high school, but that’s not to say it wasn’t a very emotional time. And now, as a mom, I worry constantly about my sons and their peer relationships in high school. That might actually be an understatement.

So, I was hesitant to read this novel. I know teens commit suicide. I know friendships in your teenage years are difficult. And I know parents are often clueless.

In Hannah’s case, rumors about her snowballed to the point where she couldn’t find the truth anymore. And the lies enveloped her. And she saw no other solution. As an adult reading this, I kept thinking “No, Hannah, it’s not that bad. Trust me.” And like the campaign, I wanted to say, “It gets better.”

Jay Asher does a remarkable job of voicing a teenage girl. She’s painfully real. As is Clay. And the other characters are not just stock jocks and cheerleaders. No, they’re not as fully developed as Hannah and Clay, but they don’t need to be. We learn about them from Hannah’s (and Clay’s) perspectives.

For me it reminded me that everything is magnified when you’re a teen. Your emotions become larger than life and you often can’t perceive things clearly. I might have a hard time recommending this book to a teen. Then I would remember, hey, maybe you should see how even the simplest actions can have repercussions. Parents should read it too... your teens might not let you in on all that’s going on, but it doesn’t hurt to remember what it was like.

Another mark of a good story for me: I read Thirteen Reasons Why in one evening. I tend to read fast, and have burned through many a detective/mystery novel in a night, but those are easy. With literary novels, I tend to need to put the book down for a bit every now and then and digest it before going on. But I wanted to finish this one. Other books that I have read in one evening: Atonement by Ian McEwan (actually this kept me up all night and is easily in my top 5 of all time best books) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (just because).

(As these things sometimes happen, soon after finishing the book, I heard Linkin Park’s Even, “Waiting for the End.” Quite fitting.)


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