A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I had a unique experience “reading” THI1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY, by Jay Asher, (Published by Razorbill), because I didn’t really read it. Rather, I experienced it. In fact, I may have experienced it in a way that was perfect for the format of the book.

I listened to it.

"Listening" instead of reading THIRTEEN REASONS WHY gave me an interesting perspective into a story that is told through tapes. In essence, I was experiencing the story as the main character was, through a recording.

The story begins when the main character, Clay Jensen, receives a set of audio tapes recorded by his classmate and crush, Hannah Baker, who has recently committed suicide. Through the tapes, Hannah tells Clay that there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself and thirteen different people involved, and that he is one of them. Clay spends an evening listening to the tapes and follow Hannah's directions through town as she describes the events that led up to her decision to take her own life.

The story is told through Hannah's tapes and Clay's narrative. As I listened, I got a sense of the helplessness that Clay felt as he heard Hannah's last words. There was nothing he could do to change what happened. The plot is intricately woven as Clay follows the Hannah's experiences and agonizes over what part he played in Hannah's decision.

This story is painful, well-told and heartfelt. I hung on ever word until the end. But I had a problem with the story that I hope I can explain.

I have been a teen aged girl. I have worked with many teen aged girls. I have a teen aged daughter. Many, if not most, of the experiences that Asher (via Hannah) sites as reasons for Hannah's suicide are common to every teen aged girl. I was waiting for the one terrible experience that pushed her over the edge. What she faced and saw and heard got more serious as the story went on, but I didn't see one good reason for her to give it all up. Nor did I find that the compilation of her experiences would lead up to suicide. When I finished reading I was worried that other teenagers would read this book and say, "My life sucks way more than that, maybe I should commit suicide." I kept looking for signs that Hannah had some kind of mental illness or even serious depression, but throughout the story she seemed completely rational. I had to take some time to think about this, and this is what I came up with...

The power in this book IS that Hannah seems completely rational and normal and that she faces very similar problems to any other teen aged girl. To her those problems seemed so overwhelming that she chose to kill herself.

One of the reasons I was drawn to this book was that I had something in common with Clay. I had a friend--also my secret crush--who committed suicide in high school. This friend seemed very normal and very rational and although I didn't know the whole situation, he seemed to have the same problems that any other high school student had.

At the time, I was told, or chose to believe that my friends' death was an accident. It took years for me to look back at the situation and wonder what I could have done differently. What would have happened if I had let my friend know I had a crush on him? What could I have changed? And the big questions: How did he not know that he had so many people who loved him? How did he not know that life would be okay--that it could and would get better?

That is the reason I think you should read THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and why you SHOULD have your kids read it. We never know what is going through another person's mind. We never know what will push someone over the edge.

And that leads into

The Mom Review

Obviously this book deals with a very sensitive subject, teen suicide. It is not a happy book. But it is a real book, it is an important book, and it is an intriguing book. It's a book that can be read by kids who don't do read very often, (it was picked as a "Quick Picks for Reluctant YA Readers" by YALSA--Young Adult Library Services Association).

There are illusions to date rape and some sexual activity--not descriptive or graphic. There are some scenes of drinking and some bad language, but I would recommend this book to teens as young as twelve. (Again know your child.)

Discussion: Parents can (and should) read this book with your kids and use it to open up a discussion into teen suicide. Questions to ask: Was Hannah's situation as bad as she thought? Do the things she experienced happen at your school? How could or should she have dealt with her problems? Did she have resources or friends available to help her?

Most Important things to ask your child: Have you ever felt hopeless or like you had no where to go for help? Who is available to you when you feel alone? (Your kids need to know that YOU are available.) Do you have friends that seem hopeless or depressed? How do you recognize suicidal thoughts in your friends?

Do you know how to recognize suicidal thoughts? Look at the National Suicide Prevention's website, Here is a link to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's article on Teen Suicide and Teensuicide.us.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY is a good read because it is complex and intriguing and real. You will be pulled along with Clay and Hannah on both of their journeys of discovery--one of hope, the other of hopelessness.

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY is an IMPORTANT book because it presents teen suicide in the light that it could happen to anyone, even someone you know.

Where I got this book: I checked this book out from my local library (Timberland Regional Library System) as a downloadable audio book. (An excellent service many libraries now offers by the way.) Incidentally, this book also a "Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults from (YALSA)".


  1. Brilliant that you listened to it -- wish I had done that, too! Thanks for the review.

  2. I have not read this book (it's now on my "to read" list), but I would like to comment on your review.

    Suicide is a very scary thing for teenagers (and parents) to understand. There seems to be a dark place in us all. The boy you referred to in your review was rational, fun loving, even normal on the outside (being your sister I know exactly who your talking about). I knew him well. Better than anyone I believe, and even I didn't know that he was capable of taking his own life. I have many times wondered also what more I could have done. But his situation was different than the girl's in the book because I don't believe it was something he thought about to great lengths or planned. (I really think if he had I would have been a little more clued in). I think for him, it was one big event that pushed him over the edge. That dark place was just deeper for him than most.

    I've been in that dark place, as a teenager too. I'm sure most of us have. That is why I have a hard time exposing it to other teenagers. The dark spot is full of deep pits with steep sides. Like our friend, if you get to close to the edge your going to fall in.

    Teenagers have enough to deal with without giving them something else to add that we hope they will never have to experience. But I suppose if a friend or acquaintance had committed suicide, it would be good to have a resource that would help them understand. If this book does that, then I say great (like I said I will read it).

    The other thing is that I don't want my kids worrying about whether or not their friend is suicidal. Only properly trained professionals are equipped to deal with this. Knowing my daughter she would take something like that on completely by herself. I don't want to her to feel responsible when there is rarely anything she could do.

    I may take back everything I said after I read the book, but I don't think suicide is a topic for entertainment, especially aimed at young adults.

  3. Jennifer,
    Jay Asher is so cool. I saw him speak and he was truly wonderful. He talked about how this book was really in his heart to write after some personal family situations. So, I am glad it has been so well received.

    In unrelated--but happy--news... you won the book EVER by Gail Carson Levine at my blog a couple weeks ago. I'd love to send it to you! Take care!