Hello, boys & girls…Th1rteen R3asons Why is now in paperback

Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher; published by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, 2007 (paperback edition, June 2011); 288 pages (hardcover edition).

What would you think if a package arrived for you with no return address?  Secret admirer?  A gift, just because?  You probably wouldn’t expect what Clay Jensen found in his anonymous box.  “Hello, boys and girls,” her voice from the grave, or so it seems.  Hannah Baker committed suicide just days ago, but a shoe box with 13 recorded sides of audio tapes has been delivered to Clay.  As he listens to Hannah, he discovers that he is but one of 13 people who will listen to Hannah’s suicide note.  All the events that snowballed out of her control are revealed.  All of the reasons why she took her life are tortuously exposed in her own words.  What will Clay take away from this experience?  What will you?

It was hard to read this book as an adult.  I know that all the events that piled up, one after the other, on Hannah’s shoulders should have been survivable.  She should have confided in an adult, someone she could trust with the whole truth.  But I also remember what it was like to feel responsible for other people’s choices, to bear the burden of guilt that was not mine.  Compound that with a preponderance of bullying (in words and actions) and the burden could seem unbearable.  Jay Asher has captured that helplessness in a compelling read, sure to spark conversations.  Hopefully, some of those conversations are between hopeless/helpless young adults and trusted adults.  Asher and the publisher have included a suicide hotline phone number and website in the book (I reviewed the hardcover, so I don’t know if it’s included in the paperback edition just released).  “Need to talk?”  1.800.SUICIDE and www.hopeline.com are on the back jacket flap.

In addition to the suicide hotline, other Web resources connected to the book are available, including a discussion guide with talking points (http://www.thirteenreasonswhy.com/im/pdfs/tl-guide-13-reasons-why-color-1.pdf).  Also visit the book’s dedicated Web page (http://www.thirteenreasonswhy.com/); read “Hannah’s” blog, Hannah’s Reasons (http://hannahsreasons.blogspot.com/); and participate in the 13RW Project (13 Reasons Why) here: http://www.13rwproject.com/#/reviews/220).

As for the book itself, I was immediately listening with Clay’s and Hannah’s voices in my head.  I guess that’s what the author intended, since he based the books on a set of cassettes!  At first I wondered if young adults would “get” the use of pause, stop and play icons that I’m used to seeing on tape decks, but (duh!) they’re the same icons used on CD and MP3 players.  Anyway, incorporating the icons into the body of the text gave me context clues for what Clay was doing, or who was currently narrating, without having to muddy the rhythm of the story with such mundane statements as, “Clay paused the Walkman to consider Hannah’s latest accusation,” or whatever Asher would’ve resorted to writing.  Very seamless way to progress the story.

Kudos to Jay Asher on his debut.  It was a quick read that also made me pause and think; a hard achievement by any author!

5P     5Q     Grade Level: 9+

Cover art: Hannah is sitting on a playground swing looking rather ghostly in her beige ensemble.  The significance of the playground is explained at the beginning and throughout the book.  The use of what appears to be tape labels is a clever way of adding the title and author to the cover.  Interesting art that will probably encourage teens to pick it up and read the description (that is, if they haven’t already heard of the book and the forthcoming movie).

From Reading Lists: Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA) 2008, Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (YALSA) 2008

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