Th1rteen R3asons Why (review)

Th1rteen R3asons Why
Jay Asher
RazorBill Penguin

More than a few of my students recommended I read Jay Asher’s Th1rteen R3asons Why and this one was a doozy–very difficult to read, but incredibly meaningful. Clay Jensen picks up the package from his porch without much thought–hmmm, cassette tapes?–but his life is forever changed. His co-worker, classmate, and crush, Hannah Baker committed suicide just a few weeks before and now her voice speaks eerily through a tape recorder: I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re 13 reasons whylistening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.

So for thirteen sides of seven tapes, Jay listens to the story of Hannah’s unraveling. It’s painful.It’s raw. And it’s probably more accurate than a lot of adults would like to admit. I asked one of my students, Lexi, if she thought it was true to high school and she said it was probably a little more extreme than reality, but the essence was there. And, unfortunately, this is the stuff teens live with. Rumors where a single kiss is twisted into a makeout session, a copped feel into going all the way, one beer into a six pack. Drama where girls play the friend when it’s useful and turn a cold shoulder when it’s not, where a brief flirtation is thrown back in your face with a laugh.

Now not a single of Hannah’s experiences would surprise anyone over the age twelve–but maybe that’s what makes Th1rteen R3asons so chilling. It’s all pretty normal teen stuff that just got too much for one sensitive and hurting soul to take. Hannah tries to seek out help, but probably too little too late–another mistake so many kids make.

There was a time at the beginning of my teaching career where not a year went by without at least one of my students attempting or threatening suicide. Kids want connection so badly–their pain runs deep–and I think we adults find it difficult to understand once we’re on the other side. But if you want to need to remember how it feels to be a teenager, alone and betrayed and besieged by rumors, Hannah’s story will jog your memory to a place you might wish you had instead walked away from.

Then go and hug that sixteen-year-old nephew who is all “Dude” and skinny jeans. Look your eighth grader in the eye. Smile and say “I appreciate your help” (and mean it) to the teenage bagger at the grocery store. We need each other.

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