Book: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Trigger Warning: This novel centers around suicide and sexual assault. I will try to be tasteful about how I approach the subject matter today, as a someone who has been in both of those situations before, but I do not know what will trigger you personally. So please be advised, and I will not be offended if you choose not to proceed with reading this post.
“I’m listening to someone give up. Someone I knew. Someone I liked. I’m listening but I’m still too late.”
What an absolutely fascinating novel. As mentioned in the trigger warning, this novel features suicide at its core. Specifically, it features a behind the scenes look on what seemingly insignificant events can snowball into a tragedy. Thirteen Reasons Why has two concurrent storylines. One takes place through cassette tapes recorded by a teenage girl named Hannah Baker who ultimately takes her life. One takes place through a teenage boy named Clay Jensen who listens to these tapes. There are seven tapes, each with an A side and a B side. Each side of the tape (except for tape 7 side B) tells the story of a person and event that contributed to Hannah’s final decision.
One day Clay comes home from school, weeks after has Hannah has died, to find a package addressed to him with no return label. Inside are the tapes. He is shocked to hear the voice of Hannah Baker come through, and even more shocked to hear that the tapes contain thirteen reasons/people/stories as to why Hannah decided to kill herself. The tapes will only ever go to the people on the list of reasons, and the thirteenth person can “take these tapes straight to hell.” However, if someone bails and decides not to listen or not to pass them on, a second set of the tapes will be publicly released and everyone’s dirty little secrets will be spilled out for the world to know.
And dirty secrets they are. We follow Hannah as she is made the subject of sexual objectification, groped, has terrible and completely untrue rumors spread about her, is betrayed, raped, and eventually gives up on herself. Each event she shares seems insignificant at the time it occurred. Just some minor thing she could have moved past. However, as the story unfolds she shows the listener (and reader) how every insignificant piece connects and breaks her down bit by bit.
This book is riveting and I absolutely could not put it down. It’s written from the angle of being a suspense novel, versus a play-by-play on how to die. It focuses more on the events leading up to suicide, instead of the suicide itself, which I think is a good way for teens to start talking about mental health and bullying from a safe distance. It becomes much more difficult to talk about when a student tries to put themselves directly in the conversation. There were times where I related to Hannah, as she struggled with acceptance and the pressures of high school. There were other times where I related to Clay as he asked himself how he didn’t see the signs, and asking why Hannah didn’t try harder to reach out. This book cuts deep, and causes people to stop and think on their own actions. What things have I done that seems trivial, that really may have been the final straw on someone’s load? Have you ever listened to a rumor, then spread it to one more person? Have you ever watched a person walk away from you, visibly upset, and not stopped to ask if they were okay? Have you ever jokingly talked about someone’s body, or taken something personal to them and made it public? There are so many insignificant things that people don’t realize may have an even bigger consequence on someone else.
At this point, I would like to stop and offer up a few real world resources that I wish that Hannah and Clay had known about. Below are listed some resources for victims of assault, secondary victims of assault (friends, family, confidants of victims), a hotline and an online chat resource for people in crisis situations, and some information on the signs you should watch for in yourself and others.
- For Family and Friends of Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault: http://www.pandys.org/secondarysurvivors.html
- National Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors: https://rainn.org/get-information/links
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
- To talk call: 1-800-273-8255
- To chat online: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx
- To text: 741741
- Warning Signs of Childhood Suicide: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/media/2010/jane-pearson-on-warning-signs-for-childhood-suicide.shtml
- Warning Signs of Suicide: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/recognizing-suicidal-behavior
There’s a stigma about mental health. It says that we are weak when we feel like things are hopeless. It says that we are even weaker when we seek help. I want you, dear readers, to know that I do not follow that stigma. I firmly believe that everyone deserves a chance to fight for their life with all the resources that exist. I believe that you should not be afraid to ask for help. I believe that empathy, that really understanding someone, is the first step in helping them. I am not a trained professional for crisis situations, but I am a person who is willing to listen and to tell you it will be okay.
When I was at my lowest point, I did what Hannah did except with pen and paper. I made a list of the people and the events that made me want to die. I wrote out the stories and I put each one in an envelope and sealed them and stamped them and set them on my nightstand for the next day. I, like Hannah, thought my signs were obvious and that if anyone wanted to help, they would have already. I had resigned myself to the idea that no one was coming to save me.
But I, unlike Hannah, had more reasons to keep going than to give up. Somewhere in the night, those reasons came to mind. They were simple, but they were enough. To all the Hannah Bakers out there, fictional or not, I’m sorry that you weren’t able to find your reasons. I won’t blame you. I won’t judge you. I’m just sorry that the word failed you. Here are the reasons I wish I could have shared with you for you to keep going.
Fourteen Reasons Why
- Sunrises, which tell you that eventually the darkness ends and light comes through again.
- Stars, which shine even on the darkest nights. Even when the clouds cover them up, you know they are there.
- The smell of autumn, when the leaves change colors and start to fall. The sound they make when they crunch under your feet.
- Music, which moves your spirit. When words fail, music speaks.
- Adrenaline, when you’re scared and terrified and that hormone is flowing through your veins forcing you to keep moving.
- The people you leave behind, because whether or not you think you did, you left some sort of a mark on them.
- Smiles, the ones that people flash at you from across the room or the street. There’s not rhyme or reason behind the smile. It’s just there to be happy and exist.
- Food, your favorite kind. Be it cake, or eggs, or mac n’ cheese. The taste of happiness dancing across your tastebuds.
- Books, because some times when life gets too hard it’s best to climb into someone else’s shoes and see the world a little differently.
- Opportunity, which comes in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. You may find yourself against a wall, but maybe that wall just leads to Platform 9 3/4.
- The world, because there is so much of the world to still see. All of its beautiful natural landmarks, manmade landmarks, the people that inhabit it.
- The good, because you must know that not everyone is bad.
- The bad, because it makes you appreciate the good.
- You. You are the most important reason to keep going. You are worth the air in your lungs, the blood in your veins. You are worth space you inhabit, and the space you cross to reach out and touch someone else.
You are worth Living for.
I’m sorry. There’s nothing clever or witty here. My immune system is currently compromised, and after a terrible time sophomore year with drinking while having the flu, I’ve decided to forgo the opportunity for alcohol. So tonight’s drawl brought to you by Cough Syrups! Huzzah!
Tune in next week for another installment of Adventures in Books and Booze on Tequila Mockingbird!