Thirteen Reasons Why
Full disclosure: this one doesn't have a happy ending. From the beginning of Thirteen Reasons Why, we know that our protagonist, Hannah Baker, has already taken her own life. We hear her stories through audio recordings she made before she died, and everything in the novel is tainted by the knowledge of her death.
But don't put it down just because it's tough: that's the beauty of it. Suicide is a more common issue for teens and young adults than for any other age group. The success of Jay Asher's novel shows that there is a real need for books dealing with topics – like suicide – that are hard to talk about. This novel, along with the 13RW Project it inspired, tries to create a safe, comfortable space where readers can explore the issue. It's not a fun topic, no; but it's one many young people grapple with every day.
After it came out in 2007, Asher and his publishers were a little surprised at how successful it turned out to be (it was his debut novel, after all!). So how did Asher get the idea to write a book like this? Well, as so often happens with great stories, it was born from a few seemingly unrelated events. Asher himself had confronted the issue of suicide when a relative of his took their own life. An audio tour of King Tut's tomb inspired the novel's unique multimedia format. And finally, an icy Wyoming road inspired the suspenseful plot. (Interview in source.) Put it all together and you get a phenomenal novel that won pretty much every award out there. Including the Shmoop-loves-it award.
You won't be let down by this grim journey into the mind of Hannah Baker as she records her last words on the eve of her death. If you'd rather listen than strain those precious eyes, be sure to check out the excellent audiobook. We wonder if it's available on cassette.
Why Should I Care?
This one's easy. Thirteen Reasons Why has actually saved lives. How often can a book stake that claim to fame? By touching teens who are suicidal and making sure those who aren't are more sensitive to their peers, Jay Asher has inspired a boatload of people.
That's not to say that this book will give you any easy answers about suicide, or that it represents the way all suicidal people think, feel, or act. Instead, it starts a conversation about a controversial topic that many of us will face at some point in our lives. In her tapes Hannah complains, "a thorough discussion [of suicide] did not begin in our class."(9.227). The novel argues that open, honest dialogue about suicide can help prevent it by providing needed information and empathy for those considering suicide or who might know someone suicidal.
The National Institute for Mental Health states that suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the US in 2007. But get this – it was the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24. This is incredibly sad, but it's our reality. And books like Thirteen Reasons Why allow us to face that grim reality and hopefully do our part to make a change.