Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
We can almost hear Hannah's voice as we read her last words, recorded on seven cassette tapes the night before her suicide. Even though she makes us uncomfortable (as intended), we can't help but feel for her, especially once we've heard all she has to say.
What Went Wrong?
Hannah is a simple girl at heart. She likes candy, hot chocolate, blue nail polish, filling out surveys, and reading and writing poetry. Deeply romantic, she wants to find love, and is exploring relationships naturally, at her own pace. She's also smart, attractive, and friendly. So what went wrong? How did her high school dreams turn into a nightmare?
That's what these tapes are all about. It's through her recordings, and Clay Jensen's reactions to them, that we get to know Hannah. We hear Hannah's description of her life at her most desperate and disturbed, which makes it easy to forget that she wasn't always this way.
By the end of the story, we can understand what happened to her, but we don't ever really know her – and that seems to be the feeling she got from everyone around her, too. We don't know what she was like before the thirteen experiences. And we certainly don't know how she might have felt about herself if she'd been able to get some help.
Creating thirteen recordings on cassette tapes is not an easy task. (We don't even know how to use cassette tapes, anyway!) Hannah's execution of the tapes is elaborately planned. She even distributes individual starred maps to her listeners, which they're supposed to follow as they listen to her recordings.
Taking all of this into consideration, we might even call Hannah manipulative. Yes, it's a harsh word, but Clay has taught us that it's okay to be angry at her, as long as we're respectful.
If we look more closely, we'll see that Hannah's angry plan doesn't do her any good either. She isn't using the tapes for self-reflection, to try to figure out how she can gain power over her surroundings. Instead, she's trying to put her listeners in her shoes – to show them how it feels to be on a list, how it feels to be accused of things and have rumors spread about them. This is an exercise in spite, and it only confirms her belief that her problems are unsolvable.
No matter how calculating she was about her plan, it's very clear from these tapes that Hannah isn't thinking straight. For example, Hannah reveals the names of some alleged criminals (Jenny Kurtz) but not others (Bryce Walker), regardless of how bad each person was to her. Also, she threatens to publicly release the tapes if her listeners don't do what she asks; but the last person on her list is Mr. Porter, who will almost certainly have to turn the tapes over to officials anyway – it's literally his job to do so.
These tapes were definitely a plan made in desperation and we can hear it both through the anger and the confusion in Hannah's words.
A Jury of Her Peers
Although Hannah tells thirteen stories, there are only twelve people on her list (she devotes two chapters to Justin). Now here's something to think about: twelve is the number of people that make up a jury.
What a terrible jury. Most of the people on the list have either spread or believed rumors about Hannah. They didn't try to get her testimony; they didn't give her a chance to present her own evidence or cross examine the witnesses – all that good stuff we learn about on Law and Order.
Now she is paying these twelve back, but the stakes are even higher. Hannah is accusing them of what could be serious legal crimes, with serious legal penalties. For many of the people on the list, Hannah's tapes could make life seriously difficult. The only difference is that these people will get the benefit of a jury if they are prosecuted.
Is It Okay Not to Like Her?
That's a really heavy question, but it's important to consider. Ask yourself this: is Hannah Baker a likeable character? Do you sympathize with her? Do you think she deserved her reputation? Was she justified in making these tapes? Chances are you're going to have mixed reactions to all of these questions, and that's okay. No one said this book was easy.
Hannah's character can't be viewed in a vacuum. It's actually really important to think about her in the context of her relationships with the twelve people on her list. So if you want to know more about Hannah, check out their character analyses and see how they fit into her life and death.