Rumor-mongering is part of every high school experience. Hannah doesn't delve into her pre-high school past, but she does hint that she had a problem with her reputation in middle school. She considers her new high school in a new town a fresh start. Unfortunately, she becomes a target for rumors almost instantly at her new school, and once the rumors start, they just keep growing. Most of us have seen this ugly game in action and may have even played it – either by starting rumors, spreading them, becoming a victim of them, or all of the above.
This theme points to a controversial issue in the novel: Hannah, a clear victim of rumors, leaves behind even more rumors in her tapes. As we discuss in "Narrative Technique," all the information we get in the book is filtered through Clay and Hannah, both unreliable narrators. This is a real problem when we think about characters being accused of serious illegal activity, particularly Bryce, Tyler, Justin, and Jenny. It's a challenge for readers to remain objective about these characters (whose side of the story we don't hear) while still trusting our protagonists.
Questions About Respect and Reputation
- How is Clay able to maintain such a good reputation? Why is he never the target of rumors? How does he initially avoid the drama the other characters are caught up in? How does this drama eventually catch up to him, too?
- Why would Justin dump Hannah without a word, and then start rumors about her? What do you think might have motivated him to act this way?
- Hannah is the new girl at school. Does this make it easier for people to start and believe rumors about her? Why or why not?
- Hannah hints that she was the victim of rumors and gossip at her old school, too. Is there any explanation for this pattern, or should we just chalk it up to bad luck?
Chew on This
By the end of the novel, Clay learns that you don't have to <em>spread</em> rumors to harm someone – all you have to do is <em>believe</em> these rumors.
Clay's decision to risk his reputation and reach out to Skye Miller shows that Hannah's story has changed how he views the social jungle of high school.