Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why are among the three books that have unequivocally changed the way I treat people. The first is The Bible. I grew up with it, and consciously and subconsciously it defines what I do and say. The second is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, non-fiction. Ehrenreich, an upper middle-class woman, decided to experience for herself how the lower class lives. Granted she often cheated renting cars when she got into a bind. Yet and still, I learned about how the working class like waitresses rely almost entirely on their tips, living from week to week in housing that could be pulled out from under them if they get the flu. To this day I carefully consider my tip because it could mean a night on the streets for someone.
Back to Thirteen Reasons Why, the third book. The novel tells the story of Hannah, a teenage girl in high school. She commits suicide. Yes, she commits suicide. Before Hannah kills herself, she leaves behind thirteen cassettes, to be distributed by mail to thirteen people who contributed to the cascade affect that led to her death. Clay Jensen, another teen, is one of the thirteen who gets the cassettes. Both Hannah and Clay share in telling the story in first person. Clay, particularly in the beginning, does not understand why he’s on the list of thirteen and why Hannah even after death is holding him responsible. It becomes very clear throughout the novel the role he played briefly as a boyfriend that spoke disrespectfully of Hannah to others; his actions and words served as a catalyst for others to abuse her.
I tell you, I read the first half of the novel in a single night. It entered my subconscious in such a way that I slept fitfully. I wondered the next morning how my actions, both big and small, have hurt people. I could think of at least 100 ways. I’ve hurt people, and if I could go back and rectify it I would.
Though the first half of the novel was a quick read, I am struggling with going back to finish the second half because I so felt Hannah’s pain. I know I will go back because I need to find out if Clay was able to do right by Hannah even if she couldn’t be there to thank him.
Like most peopleI think about how tough I had it in high school. I know things are worse these days in and outside the schools. Girls have been impregnated and given birth at less than ten years old. Young couples are in abusive relationships that seem to be accepted as the new normal among their peers. Children in middle school are experimenting with drugs. Children bully other children with verbal and physical abuse that has mushroomed on-line.
Asher writes around the edges, which on first read is milder than these examples. Yet and still, when a young girl like Hannah is identified as “best ass” on a list floated around school the damage has been done. She’s an object, not a human being once she’s been labeled.
I really hope to use this book with teens and young adults in the church in a group setting. I think a fifty year old woman or a ninety year old man would benefit from the reading. We could discuss how we see ourselves in the characters and how we see others. We could ask one another how we have wronged others or been wronged. How could we change? And we could turn to the The Bible for insight on abuse, love, kindness, forgiveness, and more in relationship to the novel.
So as I finish the novel, I suggest you order the E-Book or paperback. It will change your life. That sounds trite doesn’t it? Doesn’t matter. Trite or not, this novel will ask you to be more careful with the feelings and lives of others.