I read “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher, for the first time about a year after the novel came out. I was in middle school at this time and could pretty strongly relate to the angst of the teenagers in the novel, so of course I loved it.
I recently reread the novel, and a few things occurred to me that hadn’t when I read it the first time.
“Thirteen Reasons Why” tells the story of Hannah Baker, who, at the start of the story, has recently committed suicide. Hannah has left a set of seven double-sided tapes detailing each of the 13 people who contributed to her suicide. The tapes were sent to the person on tape one, side A, and when that person was done it moved to the next person on tape one, side B; the tapes were then sent in order of the people on them.
The reader jumps into the story as Clay Jensen receives the tapes. So we immediately know Clay is going to be on them. But how could he? Clay had a crush on Hannah Baker. How could he have possibly done something to contribute to what she did?
It’s some pretty powerful stuff. The novel deals with several heavy issues, including: rape, stalking, alcoholism and, of course, suicide.
Now here’s where I get on my soapbox. The novel paints a picture of a girl who exhibited clear warning signs, which no one around her paid attention to. Which tells me that we as a society are not paying enough attention to teen suicides.
According to jasonfoundation.com, a website with resources for parents or teens who are concerned about suicides, suicide is the second leading cause among young adults ages 10-24.
School pamphlets and long lectures about what to look for are not working. I don’t think I read a single pamphlet my school had about teen suicide rates and warning signs, and I will read anything.
Could we use this novel as a tool to get people invested? If we ask English teachers to teach this novel, are we overstepping our bounds and trying to reinvent the canon?
I’m not suggesting that I hold the answer to preventing teen suicide, and I know that there are many people who would say that the novel almost glorifies suicide. However, I fully believe that if the novel is taught correctly, we could make some strides toward educating the future of our society.
And if you’re reading this and are thinking that suicide is the only way out, know this: this will not last forever. There are people and resources that can and will help you. You are loved much more than you know.