Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thirteen Reasons Why

Author:  Jay Asher
Published: 2007

I'm reading this book for our book club.  It is about suicide, so I was hesitant to read it, but I was not disappointed.  This is definitely NOT for my 3rd graders, but for high school students and older, this is appropriate.  The author reminds us that even without knowing it our actions can have such a great impact on those around us.

The book was written by Jay Asher and it is from the point of view of two different characters.  One character is Hannah Baker, a high school student who has commited suicide.  Before she kills herself she makes tapes for 13 people who affected her life.  Each person must listen to the tapes and then ship them to the next person.  Hannah claims that all of these people had an opportunity to save her, if only by being kind or noticing that she was suffering.  Some of these people also affected her by being unkind.  The second character is Clay.  Clay has received a copy of the tapes because he is featured as a person on one of the tapes.

I felt like I was experiencing the story with Clay.  I felt his anguish and worried with him as he struggled through listening to the tapes and worrying about how he could have hurt or helped Hannah.  The author puts us right into the story with Clay.  The story actually starts in the present and then flashes back to the previous 24 hours as he listens to the tapes.  In the present, he is mailing out the tapes to the next person on the list to receive the tapes.  As he pays to ship the package, Clay sips his coffee and pulls a few bills and coins from his pocket.  The woman behind the counter says, "I don't think the coffee's kicked in yet.  You're missing a dollar."  I felt like that little bit of information helped me empathize with Clay.  It turns out that the entire book is about empathy.  We need to always consider how our actions might affect someone else and we have to always put ourselves in that person's shoes.

Hannah's problems started when she first moved to the town and some boys ruined her reputation right from the beginning of her freshman year in high school.  We see how these things snowball and lead to one event after another that hurts Hannah's self esteem.  She never seems to have anyone she can turn to and confide in and feels isolated.  I get the impression that at her previous school she may have suffered in some way as well.  She says on the tape, "New town.  New school.  And this time, I was going to be in control of how people saw me.  After all, how often do we get a second chance?"  We never find out what happened the first time around, but this stuck with me.  We never know what someone is going through or has gone through that might make them behave or react to things in a certain way.

This book brought back so many reminders of high school.  So many times I felt isolated and misunderstood, but I was lucky and had someone to turn to.  I felt like this author captured the emotions of a high school student.  I wonder what can be learned from this reminder.  I can't imagine that these feelings are not felt daily in high schools across the country.  Actually, I just read that since Sandy Hook, there are have been 74 school shootings. (CNN)  Not all of these were students hurting other students, but it happens.  This book is a reminder that we have to listen to each other and really concern ourselves with how our actions affect others.  Sometimes we do not plan to hurt others, but unwittingly hurt others.  And sometimes we do try to hurt others, but the impact can be incredible because this might be just one more thing, the last straw.

Clay learns that he could have helped Hannah.  He really had no way of knowing that he could have helped her, but if he had tried harder to be her friend, she might have survived. It's not that he turned his back on her, he just thought she didn't want a relationship with him.  He couldn't have been further from the truth.

The book ends on a positive note.  Clay sees a girl he has avoided since 8th grade because she has kept herself away from everyone else.  He realizes that this change in her since 8th grade is a sign that she needs a friend.  We don't know what happens, but he makes an effort and calls out to her and the book ends.  "A flood of emotion rushes into me.  Pain and anger.  Sadness and pity.  But most surprising of all, hope.  I keep walking.  Skye's footsteps are growing louder now.  And the closer I get to her, the faster I walk, and the lighter I feel.  My throat begins to relax.  Two steps behind her, I say her name. 'Skye.'"

Check this book out from the library! 

 After reading my book review my husband asked me why Hannah didn't take into consideration the effect her tapes might have on others.  I hadn't though of that.  So true!  The impact of these tapes on these people could be devastating!  I suppose if Hannah had considered the point-of-view of the others then there wouldn't have been a book.  This seems like a good opportunity for someone to write books from the point-of-view of the 12 other people mentioned on the tapes. 

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