Lost in the Mind of Hannah Baker.

Jay Asher. Thirteen Reasons Why. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.

200px-ThirteenReasonsWhy.jpg "I want to collapse. I want to fall on the sidewalk right there and drag myself into the ivy. Because just beyond the ivy the sidewalk curves, following the outside of the school parking lot. It cuts through the front lawn and into the main building. It leads through the front doors and turns into a hallway, which meanders between rows of lockers and classrooms on both sides, finally entering the always open door to first period." Every high school student has experienced a day or two when they feel if they walk through the school doors their world will come crashing down. For Clay Jensen, the boy at school who is nice to everyone and can do no wrong, that day is today. Clay will do anything to avoid first period, because the empty seat in the middle of the classroom is a reminder of the girl who used to sit there, a girl who stole Clay's heart, and then took her own life. Why Hannah? Was life so bad that death seemed more appealing than life? Not only do these questions haunt Clay from day to day, but he recently received a box of cassette tapes starring Hannah Baker's voice explaining exactly why she did it. Thirteen reasons why. Seventeen years old, seventeen years of living in this world but it only took thirteen reasons for Hannah Baker to make the decision that life was no longer worth living.

Jay Asher's novel Thirteen Reasons Why drops the reader into the world of a teenager struggling to overcome a series of problems that are becoming way too hard to bear. The use of raw language and realistic high school encounters with fellow students allows Hannah Baker's voice to scream from every page of the novel. Centered around the topic of suicide, Asher forces his audience to think hard about the repercussions a person's actions can have on another individual, even if they do not think their actions are great enough to have an impact. More importantly, he alludes to ways to prevent such a thing from happening after identifying several of the signs that typically occur before hand.

High school students are often driven by emotions and greatly aware of how they are perceived by their peers and other people around them. Thirteen Reasons Why supports this argument and even takes it to the extreme. Hannah Baker represents the typical teenage girl that most educators will work with throughout their career. Although we thought some of Hannah's reasons to commit suicide came off somewhat over-dramatic, the novel illustrates how even small things can add up, creating a snowball effect that can easily cause a person to fall apart. Asher uses these encounters between Hannah and her peers to make the world aware that we, as humans, affect one another more than we might know. As educators, it is smart to bring this issue up with students because, although there are signs that are often visible when one is contemplating suicide, those signs are not always cut and dry. Much like Hannah's situation, a student could be going through a really tough time in their life and go unnoticed by the people around them because they do not vocalize their struggles and pain. What may seem unimportant to some people, could be the last straw for others. Thirteen Reasons Why brings this into perspective as students read about the struggles that Hannah faces and why they cause her to break in the end.

This novel by Jay Asher would be a good book to use in a young adult curriculum. There are a few scenes that may be considered graphic or inappropriate, but they are also very realistic when considering the audience. In a controlled classroom where a teacher can facilitate the discussion, Thirteen Reasons Why can be used to make students aware of the potential signs of suicide and that even one individual could stop it by refusing to let the signs go unnoticed. We did find it hard to accuse some of the characters Hannah blames for her suicide because it does not seem like she does very much for herself to turn her life around, but overall, we feel like this book could be used to teach students about a topic that is never easy to explore.

Recommendations for Teachers
Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why is a great novel to teach to a high school English class. Asher exposes readers to the unsteady mind of a teenage girl contemplating suicide. Students will be able to relate to the characters in the novel, some on a deeper level than others, which will help students to understand the reality of the grave situation some students face. The novel presents an opportunity for teachers to discuss the too often overlooked action of suicide. The signs a person often displays when contemplating suicide are distinctly laid out for readers to become witness to; this gives teachers another jumping-off point for further discussion. While some scenes are very descriptive and intimate, Asher never takes it too far. Students will have heard and been witness to more brutal and raw things in their daily lives than the most intimate scenes of the novel.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a teachable novel that has the potential to enable teachers and students to discuss suicide in the classroom. Having said that, this novel should definitely not be banned from the classroom but it should also not be forced upon students. While certain novels may be a curriculum requirement for students to read, this novel should not be one of them. Students should have the option to choose this novel for a class reading assignment, making the novel accessible to students to read and dissect but not making it a requirement. The material discussed and alluded to in Asher's novel can be emotionally difficult to read and some students may not be ready or prepared for that. The opportunity for students to pick which book they want to read can be done through literature circles where the group collectively agrees on a single book to read and discuss.

When discussing Asher's novel in the classroom be sure to pay attention to the sensitivities of students so as not to upset anyone. The book may effect each student differently and it is the teacher's job to guide the discussion so that everyone feels comfortable. There are many materials that can be taught alongside Asher's novel which will aid both the teacher and student in gleaning a better understanding of the text. A prime example, a lesson plan that was published in the New York Times, demonstrates how to form a learning experience for students from Asher's book. The activities give students a chance to look at teen depression and what they can do to help their peers when faced with similar situations as described in the novel.

About Jay Asher
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California-native Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why, has written only two young adult novels in his writing career. His first published young adult novel was Thirteen Reasons Why in 2007 and his second, The Future of Us, was published in 2011. Asher's passion for writing was strongly encouraged by his parents while growing up who fueled his confidence to continue writing, a confidence that eventually led to the writing of his two novels. The first of these novels, Thirteen Reasons Why, has won multiple awards including New York Times Best Seller and the California Book Award while The Future of US has received positive attention since its debut in 2011. When asked about where his inspiration came from to write Thirteen Reasons Why, Asher divulged that he has had a similar situation in his own family. One of his family members attempted, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide who was approximately the same age as Hannah Baker. This horrifying incident that was so close Asher prompted him to write about an important issue of that plagues many adolescents. Jay Asher is continually writing but it is unknown if or when his next book will be released.

Multimedia

The movie trailer for the movie based on Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why:


An interview with the author Jay Asher:


Playlist for Thirteen Reasons Why:
Far Away - Marsha Ambrosius
Marsha Ambrosius's hit single "Far Away" relates mostly to Clay. The lyrics of the song describe the relationship between best-friends. Her friend commits suicide and wishes she could have saved him from taking his life; she blames herself, believing that she could have changed her friend's mind but now he will only be a figment of her memory. In Asher's novel, Clay has a hard time getting over the loss of someone he secretly admired. After Hannah's death, Clay finds it hard to remove Hannah from his thoughts, believing he could have changed her mind if he had more time to build a deeper relationship with Hannah.

Hold On - Good Charlotte
Good Charlotte's "Hold On" takes on an inspirational stance on suicide. The artist tries to inspire suicidal individuals to hold on to life awhile longer. Hannah Baker was looking for words of inspiration from her teacher, Mr. Porter, hoping he would give her the inspiration she was looking for to help change her mind. However, he failed to do so. This song provides the appropriate words of advice for those individuals contemplating the act of suicide.

Why - Rascal Flatts
Rascal Flatts' "Why" speaks for those individuals who have mourned over a loved one who has taken their own life. At times it may be difficult to understand why a person has taken their own life when they have been acting as if they are happy on the outside, as if their life is going great. Often the signs of suicide are evident, but an on-looker may not be able to piece the puzzle together before it is too late. Hannah Baker subliminally cried out for help and sometimes she was direct with her pleas for help, but no one recognized the signs of suicide that she willingly gave out.

Additional Resources:
  • Suicide Warning Signs - Provides an extensive list of signs that are prevalent among suicide victims.
  • New York Times Lesson Plan - A lesson plan that has been published in the New York Times which gives teachers an idea of how to integrate Asher's novel into a larger curriculum.
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - Resources on suicide prevention including educational resources, suicide prevention projects, resources for those surviving a suicide loss, up-to-date research, and facts about suicide.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why Official Website - The official website includes information about the book, author, Jay Asher's blog, and links to more in-depth reading about the novel.
  • Hannah's Reasons - This website is absolutely fantastic. Throughout Asher's novel, both Hannah Baker and the other characters allude to poems, tapes, pictures, and so forth. This website has all of those documents for the readers' viewing.
  • Suicide and Self-Destructive Behavior - Basic information to help those coping with thoughts of suicide and those that are in the difficult situation of trying to help another who is contemplating ending their life.
  • Reach Out - With forums, real stories, crisis help, and so many more free resources, this website provides excellent support for teenagers who are struggling through their adolescent years. Hear from other teenagers going through the same thing or young adults who have been in the same position and rose about it. Together, we can help.
  • Preventing Youth Suicide - This site provides insight for parents and educators on how to identify signs of suicide and prevent it from happening.
  • Suicide Awareness Month - Using this outline could help an educator tie in some important information about suicide during the lesson plan. This website provides a breakdown of weekly talks about suicide.
  • Jay Asher's Blog - Jay Asher is constantly updating his blog to give his readers and fans information on upcoming books, interviews, book signings, and Q & As while keeping a record of past appearances and interviews.
  • Jay Asher - Important quotes from the book and the life of author, Jay Asher.


--Elizabeth Harris, Kirstie Smith, Ben Kuzniar, Cecil Johnson.
(Additional reviews: If I Stay by Gayle Forman and Push by Sapphire)