Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thirteen Reasons Why

We all want to make a difference in this world.  No one goes into life thinking, "I want the things I do and say to hurt people." Or if you do, you're deranged. We choose our jobs based on the idea that we can best serve the world in one particular profession.  Despite the fact that my six year old says he wants to be a "regular guy" and not a doctor like his four year old sister, we want the things we do to matter.  We've all heard it said a million times.  "I want to make a difference."  "I want to help people." And maybe the things you do or say really do influence people for the better. I certainly hope so. But what if that influence wasn't exactly what you hoped it would be? What if, because of you, someone died?  What if, because of you, someone CHOSE to die?  What if you were one of the THIRTEEN REASONS WHY?

Jay Asher has created a masterpiece in his debut novel Thirteen Reasons Why.   In the story, Clay Jensen discovers a package on his doorstep when he arrives home from school one day.  Inside are cassette taped numbered 1-13 created by Hannah Baker, his first crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.  When he plays tape #1, he hears Hannah's voice  telling the story of  her life, more specifically,  why she ended it. She goes on to say, "If you are listening to these tapes, you are one of those reasons."  Clay's duty is to listen to the tapes to find out his role in her death and pass them on to the next person. Accompanying the tapes was a map, delivered weeks before the suicide.  As Hannah walks the listener through her story, they can follow the map to places that influenced her life. 

It's with horror Clay listens.  He can't remember what he could have possibly said or done that would have hurt Hannah enough to make her kill herself. He even cared for her. As he listens to the stories, he discovers it's not always a "big something" that's mentioned.  A rumor here, ignoring there.  But all the small events add up. For someone who needs a word of encouragement, for someone who needs a friend to listen, taking that away even for a second can crush the human spirit.

As we read, we see Hannah's tapes woven into Clay's reactions in a back and forth narrative point of view.  It is hugely powerful being able to experience the heartache from her perspective and to see his immediate reaction. I have to admit, I was brought to tears when Clay begs the people on the tapes to stop what they're doing, to pay attention to what's happening. 

Thirteen Reasons Why is a potent testimony to young people showing them that EVERYTHING they say and do is observed by someone. Nothing goes unnoticed. And sometimes what we consider the least of  offenses have dire consequences. 

So, don't hold back that word of encouragement.  Keep your eyes open to the truth.  Dispel rumors as they come and be the absolute best person you can be.  You never know who might need what you have to offer to live another day.


  1. It's true that most people don't realize the effect little things they do and say have on people. That's why I always try to say whatever I'm thinking, as long as it's a coherent thought and not just a strange pile of compressed images and words. This is a very important lesson for people to learn, and some don't. Not until it's too late, anyway. Like in this book.

    And while I appreciate the message that Jay Asher is trying to get across, and the rather creative way in which he did it, I have some very strong criticisms of it. Maybe I just feel resentful, because Hannah Baker did that - killed herself - and left all the people who actually did care about her with a horrible burden to bear. And maybe I'm being judgemental because I don't think she was strong enough. I was bullied up till I was in about the 9th grade. There are still people who give me a hard time, and there always will be. That's life. It's the job of the universe to smack you down and wait patiently for you to get back up so it can have another go. Have yourself a little pity party and get over it. It's just what you have to do to get by. I don't think Hannah tried hard enough to find reasons to live. She simply wanted to die. When the going got tough, she wasn't tough, so she just sat down and decided suicide was the best way to go. Life IS HARD. There's no one saying it's not. But it's not hard just for YOU. Everyone has a rough time at the very least every once in a while. And there are always people who care, even when you think there aren't. Those are the ones that you'll leave behind, broken, if you choose the path Hannah took. She didn't have to let herself get molested by what's-his-name, either. She knew it was a bad idea even to be there in the first place. She could have walked away. But the fact of the matter is, she wanted validation for killing herself. She wanted to die, and was looking for a way to do it. She wanted people to say, 'Oh, no, she was raped. That's why she killed herself. Poor dear,' instead of 'Wow, what a sad little girl who honestly had no reason to die. She was just weak, I suppose.'

    The last tape where she tries to 'get help' is pretty much a joke. It's like she's saying, 'Just to prove to you that I'm not completely off my rocker and that no one really cares about me, I'm asking a near stranger for help. Then you'll think there was really a reason for all this.' Maybe it's just because of who I am, but I think that Hannah was a weak character, and that she needed to realize that life is hard for everyone, and you have to chin up and take it. She quite honestly had more reasons to live than die. There is always a choice, and a way to change things. She chose incorrectly.

  2. Jay Asher's book really does highlight the importance of making sure you mean what you do/say. Many people think that Hannah Baker didn't have validation to kill herself, but might I ask why even suicide needs approval? people deal with things differently and every event in your life moulds who you become. Each event pushed her towards a precipice from the rumours about her to the molestation-She had given up defending herself, and beyond that she no longer saw a reason to live. It is true that she gave into her feelings and she let them consume her, however, you can only be ostracised so much before you break. She also had a lot of guilt about the events she could've stopped, most of those being at the party. Of course everyone struggles in life, but you always need some to turn to at that point-someone who will love you when you don't love yourself or life, she even states in the book that there were times where she just wanted some to notice. And when you feel as low as she did, who wouldn't? she was trying to get help, maybe it wasn't easy for her to just speak out about her feelings.
    The end of Hannah's story happened because she let herself be defeated, by her classmates, by the rumours, and by herself.It is true though that she left behind people who did care. But yet again,there arises the importance of not leaving words unsaid,or not helping her when they had the chance. Even her parents had alienated themselves from her and she felt completely alone.It's a powerful message and so relatable to a lot of people. Hannah's visit to Mr. Porter was her last plee, if he tried to stop her she would live, but he did nothing. Sure he cared, but he made no effort, besides calling after her. He knew what she would do and he seemed less than suprised when she didn't turn up to school. But he left it too late.
    Suicide is such a big problem in today's society so I don't think its fair to judge her reason to kill herself as 'not good enough.' In suicide there is no right or wrong choice, there's a lot of pain and suffering, and often not enough support or a feeling of isolation. Hannah felt all of that. You can only ask for help so many times until you are convinced no one can hear your plee.
    But statement in the book will always ring true to me: 'Do you remember the last thing you said to me? The last thing you did to me? And what was the last thing I said to you? Because trust me, when I said it, I knew it was the last thing I'd ever say.

  3. Good thoughts, Anon. So very true on all accounts.