Thirteen Reasons Why tells the story of thirteen people who influenced high schooler Hannah Baker to commit suicide. Told from the point of view of her classmate Clay, who is slowly listening to seven cassette tapes on which Hannah has recorded her story, the novel is a suspenseful revelation of the many forces that combined to demoralize Hannah. Author Jay Asher addresses this heavy subject matter with realism and fairness. Covering such issues as self-esteem, identity, rumors, romance, sexual abuse, teen drinking, and depression, Hannah’s experiences and those of her peers will resonate with many young readers. Students will not only be caught up in the riveting read, but may also find the novel a thought-provoking reflection on aspects of their own lives. Jay Asher’s novel provides parents and educators with a helpful starting point for many difficult topics that too often go unaddressed.
Thirteen Reasons Why addresses many controversial topics that students may initially be uncomfortable discussing. Teachers, too, may find the subject matter difficult to approach. Before beginning the novel, teachers should take care to prepare with relevant background reading on subjects such as bullying, suicide, and sexual abuse. Make sure to also research appropriate authorities and helplines for providing official student support in these areas. The organizations below may be helpful resources for both teachers and students.
National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network (RAINN), 1-800-656-HOPE
In addition to its powerful thematic content, Thirteen Reasons Why can be a wonderful tool for teaching literary concepts. Asher uses a creative story structure and alternating point of view to tell his story and maintain suspense. The novel contains parallel stories, which alternate every few lines from Clay’s narration in the present to Hannah’s narration in the past. Clay’s part of the story is told through stream of consciousness, a method of narration in which the speaker expresses thoughts and feelings in a continuous flow of words. Asher also employs unique formatting techniques, including italics to indicate Hannah’s recorded voice and symbols representing the “stop”, “pause”, and “play” functions of the cassette player. These symbols also indicate a switch in narrative point of view. Other literary devices to teach along with this novel include foil, tragic flaw, foreshadowing, irony, figurative language, and deus ex machina.