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Book Review: 13 Reasons Why
Reach Out Before It’s Too Late
Carlos Ferreira

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says that approximately 4,600 youth kill themselves each year. I’m shocked at how high the numbers are, because I personally don’t know anybody who has committed suicide. But it’s obviously a big problem, and the novel 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, published in 2007, addresses the issue of teen suicides in a way that helped me understand how those 4,600 kids might have felt.

Of course, in real life, there’s usually no way to know how a person who kills herself felt. This fictional story is a way of imagining that.

When the book starts, Hannah Baker is already dead. Before she committed suicide, she made seven cassette tapes explaining why she did it and the people she blames (each person gets one side of a tape). Clay Jensen, a boy she knew, receives a copy of the tapes two weeks after her death, and so do the other people she blames.

Clay’s the one telling the story, and he describes listening to the first tape in his garage. He hears the dead girl’s voice explain what the tapes are, so Clay listens nervously to find out why he’s included—he doesn’t think he did anything to Hannah. He’s also curious about the truth behind the rumors about her and why she killed herself. On Tape 1, Side A, she tells the story of Justin, her first kiss and the first person on the list. Justin spread rumors that they did more than kiss and Hannah became known as a “slut” at school.

As he listens to more tapes, Clay gets scared and feels guilty that he may have done something awful to her. She’s included with the tapes a map with locations marked on it; these spots are mentioned on the tapes. The higher the number, the worse it gets, Hannah says. Number 13 is assigned to the worst person, the one she blames most for her suicide.

Clay listens to the stories of others and what they did to Hannah and how they have all wronged her, contributing to the decision she made to commit suicide. After Alex, who put Hannah on a “hottest ass” list, and Jessica, a friend who dropped her, comes Tyler, on Tape 2, Side B. Tyler is a peeping tom who took pictures of Hannah in her bedroom. She says she loved sleeping with the windows open so that she could look at the stars or at lightning when it rained. But Tyler made her feel scared and took away her peace of mind in her own home.

Nobody Helped

I first read this book in junior high. I loved it and read it whenever I had a bit of free time. On the bus to school, at lunch, and even after school instead of seeing my friends or playing video games. The emotions Hannah describes are some of the ones I had when I first went into care. We were both in situations where we desperately wanted someone to come and help but no one did, except for people who made it worse.

On Tape 3, Side B is Marcus, a boy who takes Hannah on a date. Hannah decides to give him a chance, and they go on a date to a restaurant called Rosie’s. He shows up late and then takes Hannah to a booth in the back of the restaurant. Having heard about her reputation as a “slut,” he puts his hand on her knee and moves it up her leg. Hannah tells him to stop and pushes him out of the booth. Marcus calls her a tease loud enough for everyone to hear, then leaves. “I just sat there, in the booth where Marcus left me, staring into an empty milkshake glass,” Hannah says. “His side of the bench was probably still warm because he’d left only a minute ago. When up walked Zach. And down he sat.”

image by Razorbill

Zach, from Tape 4, Side A, had seen Marcus push himself on Hannah and didn’t help. Still, Hannah appreciates that Zach sits with her. She doesn’t respond much to him since she’s feeling awful about what happened with Marcus.

Zach and Hannah are in the same Peer Communication class, where students give each other anonymous notes of encouragement. Zach feels dissed by Hannah in Rosie’s, so he steals all notes of encouragement directed to Hannah, who at this point has started thinking about suicide. She says on the tape, “Maybe it didn’t seem like a big deal to you, Zach. But now, I hope you understand. My world was collapsing. I needed those notes. I needed any hope those notes might have offered. And you? You took that hope away. You decided I didn’t deserve to have it.”

Small Cruelties Add Up

Some of these things don’t seem that big by themselves, but Hannah calls it the “snowball factor,” which made her feel overwhelmed. It made me think of how things like the “hottest ass” list seem like a joke, but might be hurting people and adding to their already feeling bad. This book made me think about some of my actions. It really can affect other people to be kind and not mean, even if it’s a small thing.

Not just teens but adults can also impact a teenager’s decision to commit suicide. The worst person on the list (in my opinion as well as Hannah’s) is Mr. Porter, Tape 7, Side A. When all else seems to be going wrong you tend to look toward an adult, especially a guidance counselor, for help. It’s their job to help and listen to teens, but Hannah Baker was ignored.

She clearly told Mr. Porter that if he didn’t help her right then she was going to leave and kill herself—and he didn’t come after her when she left his office. I know the feeling of being ignored too well and that helps me relate to Hannah and how she must have felt.

I like Hannah Baker; she sounds like anyone who has been hurt. She just wants her story to be heard. I also like Clay and could imagine thinking the same things he thinks while listening to the tapes. “So where am I on the list, among these stories? Second? Third? Does it get worse as it goes along? She said lucky number thirteen could take the tapes to hell.”

After listening to all 13 sides, including the one directed at him, Clay regrets not talking to Hannah like he wanted to. He notices the things Hannah described she was going through in another girl at school named Skye.

He tries to do for Skye the things he didn’t do for Hannah Baker, growing more confident and more responsible for others: “I wanted to say something, to call her name, but my throat tightens. Part of me wants to ignore it. To turn around and keep myself busy, doing anything, till second period. But Skye’s walking down the same stretch of hall where I watched Hannah slip away two weeks ago. On that day, Hannah disappeared into a crowd of students, allowing the tapes to say her good-bye. But I can still hear the footsteps of Skye Miller, sounding weaker and weaker the further she gets. And I start walking, toward her.… Two steps behind her, I say her name. ‘Skye.’”

The book is simple yet beautiful. It never feels preachy because it’s realistic
—anyone in high school knows the “hot or not” list, the rumors, and how people you thought were your friends betray you. This book reminded me to pay attention to how others are feeling and showed me the warning signs of suicide. As Hannah says, “Because it may seem like a small role now, but it matters. In the end, everything matters.”

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