Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Clay finds a package waiting on his doorstep. There is no return address and, excited, he quickly opens it. Inside are seven tapes, numbered on each side. Clay can't understand why anyone would send him these tapes until he plays side number one, and hears the voice of Hannah Baker, the girl he could have loved, the girl who killed herself two weeks ago.
The tapes are not a suicide note, nor a comprehensive account of why Hannah decided to commit suicide. Instead, Hannah dedicates one side of a tape to everyone in her life who gave her cause to hate the world she was in so badly that she took her own life. Their acts, which range from sexual harassment to bragging and spreading gossip, impacted on Hannah in ways that recipients of the tapes were not aware of, a theme which the author weaves strongly throughout the book. Over the course of one night, Clay listens to each tape and learns more about Hannah than he had ever learnt before she died, learns more about his friends and classmates than he could ever have known. Much of what he learns he wishes he could forget, but he must keep listening until Hannah has said all she wanted to say.
Suicide is a serious topic for a book aimed at young adults, but Asher has dealt with it in an honest and sensitive way. The reasons that Hannah cites in her tapes seem, at first, to be frivolous and petty, daily incidents that many people will be familiar with. Over the course of the book, each layer is added to by the next tape and finally a full picture of Hannah emerges that is neither frivolous nor petty and it becomes easier to understand how and why Hannah has reacted in such an extreme way. Clay is key to this understanding, providing the reader with an outsider's point of view to many of the incidents described in the tape which allows us to see that Hannah had become isolated and introverted. Clay also reacts well to her reasoning; that no one could see, no one would listen, and that people were unwilling to help. His slight irritation but more importantly his heartbreak over her actions brings the reader, who often finds sympathy with Hannah, to ground. Hannah's assumptions, which seem like fact to her by the end of the seventh tape, are countered by Clay and this adds to the main tragedy of the book; that Hannah could have found a way out for herself.
This book has strong adult elements to it, including strong language and sexual harassment and we would therefore not recommend it for readers under 16.
Review by Joanna@Kid's Compass