Clay is your usual teenage boy who worries about grades and girls, but all that changes when he gets a mysterious package of thirteen cassette tapes in the mail. Thirteen Reason Why by Jay Asher follows Clay as he listens to the thirteen tapes from a girl at school named Hannah who has recently committed suicide. Thirteen tapes, thirteen reason, and Clay is one of them.
This is the second time I’ve read Thirteen Reasons Why. It’s just one of those books you can never seem to forget about. When I first read it I was younger and in school. I remember being emotionally distraught during the first reading. I was right there with Clay feeling all the same emotions of “I should I stopped this” and “why didn’t I see the signs.” I’m positive I cried at the end. Rereading the novel and knowing what reasons were coming next was a whole different experience. Also, I’m an ‘adult’ and a teacher now. Reading about teenagers… I can’t help but put my students in the protagonist’s place and having this overwhelming urge to protect them.
This is a book all teenagers should read. It will be an emotional read and it will be difficult for some, but I think the insight into the thoughts and reasoning of a suicidal teen is too valuable for them to pass up. While this is a work of fiction, it’s important for teenagers to really see how bullying and even the smallest actions can create a chain reaction, causing someone’s life to fall into chaos. Hanna makes this clear in the first tape you “listen” to with Clay. Something that seems like a harmless joke can really tear someone’s life apart.
I decided that I’m going to answer some discussion questions asked by Penguin in this printout. They have an overwhelming 29 questions and most of the questions have multiple questions in them… (Example Bullet Question: Consider the title of the novel. Are each of Hannah’s thirteen reasons of equal importance? Which do you find to be the most unexpected? Who is responsible for Hannah’s death? Why do you think Hannah committed suicide?) So, I’m going to just take bits and pieces of the ones I like and answer them that way 🙂
- Consider the title of the novel. Are each of Hannah’s thirteen reasons of equal importance?
-It is difficult for me to say that the thirteen reasons aren’t all equally important because I didn’t experience them, but I do think they are equally important to her; which is what really matters in this situation. However, I don’t think they are all equal in the sense that everyone is equally guilty for the role they have in her choosing to commit suicide. Like, I feel horrible for Mr. Porter. He will feel terrible when he listens to the tapes, but he isn’t guilty of anything really. Hannah went to him already knowing what she wanted to do. He didn’t know what she had planned. They always say that you should talk to someone if you have suicidal thoughts. But there is a HUGE difference in calling a suicide hotline (when they know your intentions and they are trained to talk to you about your issues) and having a discussion with a teacher (who is not a trained counselor) and not telling them much of anything. On the other hand, you have Tyler (the peeping Tom) who blatantly commits a crime and could
shouldbe punished by law
- Which of the thirteen reasons do you find to be the most unexpected?
-Clay. Clay’s is the most unexpected because he didn’t actually do anything. She didn’t reach out to me, he didn’t abuse her trust in anyway, he simply stopped when he asked her to stop and didn’t push her when she was down and vulnerable. Clay shouldn’t really have a tape, BUT in order for this book to have some sort of light we need Clay in the story. We need him so we can hear an outsider’s thoughts that don’t belong to a peeping Tom or a bully. The story would have been much darker and more disturbing had we hear from Justin or Tyler. Because this is a book for teens, I think it’s important to have the hopefulness of Clay. Without Clay, there is no one ‘innocent’ in Hannah’s thirteen reasons that would really tell a teen “Don’t do that. People will miss you.”
- Discuss the phrase “The truth will set you free.” How does this apply to the story Hannah tells? Does truth really gift freedom?
-I believe that truth gives relief, not freedom. Relief is a feeling you could experience when you are granted freedom. The two terms are not synonymous. Hannah’s thirteen reasons did not set her free, but rather offered her a sense of relief before she took her life. It made her feel a sense of closure. I think Hannah would have also felt relief if she had made these tapes, gave them someone (Mr. Porter?) and then not committed suicide. I don’t want to say that you shouldn’t be honest, I always try to be honest. However, I have learned that there are situations where it is important to keep the truth hidden. I’ve learned that there is a time and a place to be truthful.
- At the end of the story, Hannah asks Mr. Porter to define friendship. How would you respond to this question?
-Before moving to Korea I would have said that friendship is a mutual affection between two people, but now… I just feel like it is so complicated. There are work friends, best friends, drinking buddies… There are so many different types of friendship and I don’t think there is one definition that could encompass it all. Coming to Korea alone, I knew that I would need to make friends in order to be happy here. So, I made friends with the other foreign teachers around me 🙂 They are all really great! BUT when you really think about it, would we all be friends if we lived at home where we weren’t considered foreigners? Probably not.. We became friends because we needed each other. It’s situational.
-Gah. Now I feel like I just fell into a pit of “who are my real friends” and I don’t like it. I hope no one ever asks me what friendship is. I want to avoid this question at all cost.
- What will you remember from reading this novel?
-I honestly can’t stop thinking about how Clay is sort of upset that an adult will get the tapes at the end. Mr. Porter is the last one to get the tapes. All I can think about is how he hopefully does the right thing and does something with the tapes rather than just bury them. I need to know that these students will have some consequence to their actions. What would stop them from staying the same after the whole thing blows over? What will really stop Tyler from taking photos of others if he wasn’t really caught? None of them will say anything for fear of their secrets getting out. Nothing is there that could really stop them from doing wrong in the future. I have to believe that Mr. Porter will go to the police with the tapes.