Thirteen Reasons Why: we are all connected, we all have an impact.

Jay Asher. Thirteen Reasons Why. London, UK: Penguin Books, 2007.

"Hello boys and girls, Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo. No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests... The rules are pretty simple. There are only two. Rule Number one: you listen. Number two: you pass it on. Hopefully neither will be easy for you." (Cassette 1: Side A)

external image thirteenreasonswhy.jpg

"You don't know what goes on in anyone's life but your own. And why you mess with one part of a person's life. You're not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can't be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person's life, you're messing with their entire life. Everything...affects everything."
  • Talking or writing about suicide. "Soul Alone by Hannah Baker"
As the teacher talks in the front of the room, your eyes follow their usual pattern and shift to the empty seat in the middle of the room. The seat that has been empty for two weeks. The seat that will be empty for the rest of the year. Why Hannah? Why did you take this pills? Why didn't you tell me? Why did come to this? As you enjoy your last day of peace an inconspicuous shoebox is waiting on your front step holding seven cassette tapes with Hannah Baker's voice waiting on the other side to tell you why she took her own life, why it was your fault and why for once it's not about you.
  • Performing poorly in school.
"My grades were slipping pretty fast. My parents asked for progress reports every week from my teachers. And when none of them came back with improvements, I was grounded." - Asher
Jay Asher's, Thirteen Reasons Why is written as a dual narrative; the story begins with the haunting voice of Hannah Baker, a student who committed suicide two weeks before as she walks her listeners through the thirteen reasons why she committed suicide. The second narration comes in the form of Clay Jensen's stream of consciousness has he walks in Hannah's footsteps and unfolds why he is on her list. Asher allows his reader's to experience Hannah's first kiss, her first friends in a new town, her first rumors, her first party and why they are all connect to each other.
Clay Jensen is a shy teenage boy with a picture perfect reputation. Asher’s story begins on the day that Clay comes home from school to find a package on his doorstep. He opens it to find a set on seven cassettes taps each with a painted number in the corner 1,2,3… He puts the first tap in and is shocked to find Hannah Baker’s voice coming through the speakers. It wasn’t that Clay had never heard Hannah’s voice; he had many times, they were friends and at one point he had hoped that they would be more. So the surprise wasn’t that Hannah would talk to him or even that it comes in the form of an outdated cassette tap, Hannah has been dead for two weeks. Clay has been staring at the empty desk in homeroom knowing that in would remain that way for the rest of the year and is now sitting in his garage in disbelief hearing Hannah tell him that he had something to with why she killed herself.
As Clay follows Hannah’s map of the neighborhood learning more about his classmates that Hannah says had a part in her suicide than he ever cared to, we too feel the dreaded of anticipation of hearing our names through the speakers. Why Hannah? What did I do? In may not be what we did but rather what we didn’t do (as it was for Clay) but Hannah is clear about one thing it’s not just what you did but what others did because of you. “Everything…affects everything.”
  • Giving away prized possessions. ""Giving away possessions." Tony nods. "She said I was the only one she could think of that might need it.""- Asher
High school is truly a separate world filled with gossip, secrets, cliques, hot or not lists and football games. To teach Asher’s book isn’t a question, it’s imperative. For those who live everyday in this world Hannah’s lesson is most important. As Clay finds out at the end of the book it’s not just what we do and say but it’s what we don’t do. All Hannah needed was for someone to notice and to encourage her; without the notes of encourage meant that Zach stole, without Clay being able to each her and finally Mr. Porter to recognize her cry for help she had no hope. Asher shares Clay’s strong emotions as he realizes the way he has treated Hannah and how he has treated others in similar manners, his style of writing and detached story may help guys and girls living the surreal world of high school (along with many others) come to these realizations about their own actions and change the course of many lives. The novel lends itself to be examined to include writing components with its unique, inter-weaving, dual-narrative, as well as the ideas of writing both in past and present tenses and characterization. It is this talents of Asher's that allows the novel to be shocking without using shock-jock details whilst still moving the readers to extremes, making it accessible to all middle school and high school students without the constant need to defending the work. The dual voices of a male and female narration solidifies it's potential of becoming a young adult classic by giving both males and females something to identify with.
  • Exhibiting a change in personality." A few days before she took the pills, Hannah was herself again."- Asher
Hannah repeatedly tries to talk to her teachers and shows many stereotypical signs of someone at risk. The bullet points above are few that were on Hannah's list more can be found here . The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Wintergirls, Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson, Drowning Anna (review 2), Cut, Before I fall- Lauren Oliver, and Hate List - Jennifer Brown are all books that deal with these same suicidal issues as well as rape, bullying and more.

Plot Extras
Hannah's list:
  1. Justin Foley: Hannah's first kiss and the founder of the first rumors about Hannah's untrue reputation.
  2. Alex Standall: Former friend and creator of the "hot or not" list that causes Hannah to be sexually harassed and reputation to be solidified.
  3. Jessica Davis: Hannah's first confidant who would rather believe in the bad Hannah. Gave her, her first external scar after punching/scratching her.
  4. Tyler Down: Took away Hannah's last sense of security by peeping through her bedroom window with a camera.
  5. Courtney Crimsen: Uses Hannah and then spreads rumors about her.
  6. Marcus Cooley: Almost stands Hannah up for a date and then tries to sexually touch her.
  7. Zach Dempsey: Spitefully steals Hannah's notes of encouragement notes after being turned down by her and then turns away after Hannah shows him how much she is hurting.
  8. Ryan Shaver: Steals Hannah's poem forcing her to sit by while the school analyzes and makes her words.
  9. Clay Jensen: Walked out of the room when Hannah needed someone the most.
  10. Justin Foley (again): He along with Hannah did nothing as one of their classmates was being raped.
  11. Jenny Kurtz: Hid the fact that she was the cause of an accident that killed a classmate and changed an old man's life forever.
  12. Bryce Walker: Sexual assaulted Hannah despite her apathy.
  13. Mr. Porter: Hannah's last hope for strength who allowed Hannah to walk out of his office after she hinted at her plans of suicide.

Recommendations for Teachers
Thirteen Reasons Why covers a lot of very tough topics loneliness, sexuality, depression, bullying and suicide. Each of these topics, among others, can be excellent points of discussion. Although these areas can be a tricky minefield for teachers yet if handled correctly can help foster a strong connection between students and literature. In order to make teaching these issues easier, teachers may encourage their students to get involved in the anti-bullying campaign. PBS also provides an online lesson plan in order to aid teachers in approaching depression and suicide. Asher, however, may give away some of the best tips on how to tackle these subjects in the classroom within the novel itself. He suggests creating a safe environment by giving the students the ability to leave each other anonymous encouraging notes, making anyone who laughs at someone else buy the teachers a Snickers bar and providing a list of warning signs to the student body if one student is suspected to be at risk.

For educators looking to challenge their readers, there are several options for co-teaching Thirteen Reasons Why with some classic novels. Options such as Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, all have the potential to be companion pieces for Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. While stylistically all are different they feature a strong female character who struggles with issues related to disappointment, loneliness, disillusionment and ultimately suicide. There are also opportunities to expand a reading of this text to incorporate technology. Audio files or blogs can be created of the tapes (or of Clay's commentary) to help foster an understanding of the different interpretations of tone, style and emotion. Taking cues from Jeff Wilhelm's research, activities such as "Missing Scene" or "Game Show" can help students in-habit the world of the novel (Wilhelm). Students can take the side of individual's on the tapes, Clay, or Hannah and fill in any gaps they see missing as well as be interviewed by their peers for more information about their adopted persona. Activities such as these can be used to create a successful scaffold for reluctant readers to gain better comprehension of the text. They also help create a reading community, allowing student's to better understand various perspectives and create a sense of empathy for others, particularly those different from them. Ideally this can help them lean on each other to cope with these tough issues adolscence today are facing, as opposed to having to go it alone, as Hannah does in the novel.

Mixing Asher's poetic style and both Hannah and Clay' s distinct voices Thirteen Reasons Why becomes a perfect candidate for students to create found poetry from. Allowing students to express themselves in the same way Hannah tried to do will give them a greater connection to the characters and encourage them to find their own meaning out of Asher's book. With a piece of literature that is so packed with personal meaning and the need for self expression a poetry unit would compliment if not enhance the students experiences.

About Jay Asher

jay_asher.jpgThis being Jay Asher’s first novel to date, he is not very well known yet. However, his second Young Adult novel is in the making. He has previously written several pictures books and middle age Humor Novels. When talking about Thirteen Reasons Why, he states that the television show, My So-Called Life, is a great influence on his writing. Asher was also inspired for this book due to incidents that happened in his own high school. He wrote this novel in six months while living in Sheridan, Wyoming. Asher says from previous interviews that he comes up with ideas while in bed but writes everything at a nearby coffee shop. With Thirteen Reasons Why, Asher was relying on an overall message to come through to the readers. He wanted everyone to realize that how we treat others impacts everything. In an end interview following the novel itself he said that our words, actions, everything does have a large impact on others around us.

Asher, himself, has been encouraged to persue all interests of his. He grew up in a family that supported his guitar playing through his writing. He went to school at Cuesta College where he wrote his first two children's books for a class called Children's Literature Appreciation. Upon doing so, he decided that he wanted to become an elementary school teacher. Asher then transferred to California Polytechnic State University where he ended up dropping out his senior year to further persue his writing career. Today he has had odd jobs in various establishments, including a salesman in a shoe store and in libraries and bookstores. Many of these job experiences had a great deal of inspiration in his writing. He now says that one day he hopes to work again in a used bookstore.

Many people use music to connect on a deeper level with life. These songs on suicide can help readers to connect to the emotional elements in both Hannah's and Clay's stories.
  1. Adam's Song- Blink 182
  2. C'est La Vie- Protest The Hero
  3. Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor- Eels
  4. Easy Tonight- Five For Fighting
  5. Haunted- Kelly Clarkson
  6. Hold On- Good Charlotte
  7. Numb- Linkin Park
  8. Reasons Why- Saving Jane
  9. Stay Awake- Epic Hero
  10. Ten Years Today- Bullet For My Valentine
  11. What's This Life For?- Creed
  12. Whiskey Lullaby- Brad Paisley
  13. WhyRascal Flatts

An interview with Jay Asher talking about the journey and success of Thirteen Reasons Why on BN studios.

Two fan-made trailers to the upcoming film adaptation of this book that were sent to Jay Asher and posted on his blog. Asher comments on the similarity of the casting and confirms that Selena Gomez has been cast as Hannah Baker.

This video is an academic focused assignment and expresses the interpretation of students and fans of the book.

Additional Resources:
    • Th1rteen R3asons Why - Official homepage for Jay Asher's first novel.
    • Random House- A new twist to the novel, hearing Hannah's voice for yourself in the sound recording from Random House Audio.
    • Hannah's Map - Allowing his readers to experience the book on a different level Asher has created a virtual map of Hannah and Clay's town where you can hear Hannah's voice as you visit the locations that changed her life.
    • Hannah's Blog - Includes images and audio files connected to the novel.
    • Jay Asher's blog - get to know the author on a more personal level through his blog, life in his own words.
    • Old People Writing for Teens- Fan favorite interview with Jay Asher talking about his favorite moments from the book.
    • Best Seller- The New York Times article about the success of Asher's first novel.
    • Movie Web - News about the cast and director of the movie adaptation.
    • Dream Cast - One fan has created her own dream cast for the upcoming film version of Thirteen Reasons Why
    • PostSecret - webpage outlet for anonymous confessions of deepest secrets. Less direct than the novel, but another perspective for addressing the idea that there is a lot we don't know about those around us.
    • Teen Counseling - A resource to find a helpful program for teens struggling with issues.
    • In the classroom - Thirteen reasons why this book should be taught in the classrooms across the country.

--Cassey Stank, Bethany Powers, Julia Holdsworth, Shawn Czerkis