Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Isaura Greene
"The characters are teens like us, dealing with problems while learning from mistakes and trying to fix them."

Clay Jensen is a typical high-schooler. He avoids being at home and has romantic relationships. His heart is bruised when, seemingly spontaneously, his crush Hannah Baker—whom he knows from school but merely at a distance—commits suicide. But then Clay receives a package in the mail with thirteen taped messages inside, plus a map with a number of places circled. There is no return address.

Clay plays the tapes and finds that they are from Hannah, telling Clay her story and why she decided to end her life. Hannah dedicates each of the 13 messages to a different person, and describes their role in her life.

The tapes, sent before her death, ask for each person to listen to the tapes all the way through, and then to pass them on in such an order that all the designated people hear what Hannah has to say. She doesn’t want it to be public, but if the people who receive the tapes don’t follow her requests, she warns, someone with a second copy of tapes will be forced to share her message publicly.

Hannah describes each person as one of the 13 reasons she ends her life and she addresses one message to each individual. All Hannah wants them to do is listen with their hearts.

Clay follows Hannah’s message closely. He travels with Hannah’s map to each of the starred locations. He wants to obey her last requests and to hear her story because he wants to understand. But as he travels, he thinks about his own actions and how they hurt Hannah.

While he works to understand what happened to Hannah, he learns many life lessons. He learns to speak up, and he realizes that every action affects others in some way. Hannah’s messages explain how she wants the people in her life and the teens reading her story to become more aware of how we affect the lives of others every day.

When I picked up Thirteen Reasons Why, I was a bit skeptical. I thought it would be depressing since it centers on a teen’s suicide. But the story tells about more than just that incident. It emphasizes the importance of speaking up and not hiding away. When someone starts to fade away, they need help to pull their life back together, or they could become too unhappy and lose the desire to live, like Hannah.

The book incorporates serious problems that many people today have to deal with, issues like rape, sexual abuse, stalking, bullying, peer pressure and so forth. The story is really touching because the characters are teens like us, dealing with problems while learning from mistakes and trying to fix them.

This book made me think about a time when I felt depressed. I understand what it might have been like for Hannah. Now, when I see someone having a tough day, I ask them about it. I try to get them to smile, just to make sure they don’t get stuck on a problem to the point that it becomes a reason for them to withdraw. Also, to make sure they know that they matter, and have a place in the community.

I think that it is really important for teens to read books like Thirteen Reasons Why, and to realize that our actions really can and do make a difference.