A Young-Adult Fiction Novel by Jay Asher

Reviewed by Rebecca Hallam

I put this book down last night and picked up my journal, so many thoughts swimming through my mind I couldn’t sleep until I wrote them all down. This is an important book, carefully and thoughtfully written and a must read … especially for young teens.

The novel is a triangle of thoughts between Hannah Baker, a young teen who decides removing herself from her awful life is the only way, Clay Jensen, a boy with a secret crush on Hannah trying to make sense of her loss, and you the reader, recalling your own experiences and wanting to interfere with the outcomes of events in the story that are too late to change.

Instead of a suicide note, Hannah records audio tapes of the reasons for ending her life, exposing people whose actions affect her decision and has the tapes circulated among them after her death. While Hannah expresses her thoughts this way, Clay’s thoughts are intertwined, and we read along, living through this listening experience with Clay, following the map she constructs for him until the end of the book. We experience her pain, suffering and the degradation of her mental health as well as his feelings of responsibility for what happened. We share Clay’s anger for all the lost opportunities, toward the people who belittled her along the way, and toward Hannah herself for testing those around her to see if they could save her from herself.

You’ll ask how I rate this book. It is intricately written and engaging. The facts are not that different from other real tragedies we learn about daily. The question is not whether it is mediocre, good or stellar. Instead of starsThirteen Reasons Why” should be rated through your own experiences.

While I digested the messages the book offered, Randy Freethy was percolating through my thoughts. I can picture his round face, sandy brown hair and quirky smile. I have thought of him many times over the years and remember he was smart, intelligent, and desperately sought a place, a crowd to fit in with at our high school. Randy took his own life, leaving the rest of us in his wake wondering what happened, why he did it. How awful was his life that he felt there was no other solution? What did those who picked on him, who teased and beat him down think learning of the news? And worse than this, what about those who even didn’t notice Randy was gone?

Asher takes us into a place of empathy and understanding and finally to a place of hope. The hope is there to guide Clay to a place of forgiveness, to help him learn from the experience and to help someone else.

This book will generate a stimulating discussion at our book club next month. However, for me, I keep coming back to Randy Freethy. I regret that we didn’t recognize, let alone know how to handle, or possibly stop, Randy’s spiral of despair. I made a commitment back then in his loss to never forget him, his name permanently etched in my memory. I pray for his soul and for his family.

Read this book, not for any kind of rating but because the message is so important. It will help us recognize when to seize the moment and reach out, how not to give up and most importantly not to let fear hinder our ability to make a difference.

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