A book that teens should be encouraged to read. If you’re a parent, it’s a book you should read.
About the Book
Whenever a book is turned into a movie or TV series, you can bet your boots the story has mass appeal. That’s why when Netflix released “Thirteen Reasons Why” in late March to instant popularity, you just knew you had to reach for the book. After all, the book is always better, right? Even if it is a YA novel. Even if you don’t typically read YA novels. Even if you avoid YA novels like lima bean cheesecake. You are compelled to read and discover what all the hubbub is about.
Well, hubba to the bubba! “Thirteen Reasons Why” does not disappoint, not even for a page. In fact, there are at least thirteen reasons why parents and teens should read the book.
Teenager Hannah Baker commits suicide. Although her death precedes the start of the book, she leaves behind seven cassette tapes on which she narrates the thirteen reasons why she chose to end her life. Each reason is a story. Each story is directed at a different person in her high school and details their actions (or lack of) that contributed to her decision to die. Hannah sets it up so that each person receives the cassette tapes after her death. One at a time. In the order that they appear on the tapes.
The book alternates between Hannah’s reasons as heard on the cassette tapes and Clay Jensen, the ninth person to receive them. Clay is a nice boy who always had a crush on Hannah. As he listens to the tapes, he grows angry and sickened by the actions of the people in the stories before him, as well as confused and worried about what part he may have played in her death.
The theme of suicide in YA novels isn’t new, and it isn’t what makes this book stand out. Not for necessarily for younger teen readers, the book details teen alcohol use, bullying, mean girl drama, and even rape. As standalone incidents, a few of the stories Hannah tells seem like a normal, albeit unpleasant, teenage experience. The boy who lies about how far he got on a date. The guy who tries to cop a feel. While both are despicable, you’d be hard pressed to find many teenagers who haven’t been guilty of or experienced the same.
However, for Hannah, each incident leads to the next. Each story is connected to the one that follows. In the story, it’s referred to as a snowball effect. That’s exactly what it is. In the end, Hannah feels crushed by the snowball, and sees no other way out.
“Thirteen Reasons Why” gives teens powerful insight into how their actions can affect others, but it doesn’t stop there. Let’s face it. The use of cassette tapes is an odd choice for the 2007 book when video or other digital recording methods would have been the go-to method for most teens. But the use of cassette tapes serves a purpose by stirring up memories for an audience decades-removed from the teenage years, perhaps helping them to relate to what kids face today.
It’s a book that teens should be encouraged to read. If you’re a parent, it’s a book you should read.
(Curious how the book differs from the Netflix series? Head over here to find out.)
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