Hannah Baker killed herself. When Clay Jensen receives a box of tapes in the mail, he is stunned to hear Hannah's voice on them. Before her death Hannah made tapes covering 13 sides of cassettes because there are "13 sides to every story". Hannah recorded these tapes and has sent them to the people she considers responsible for her suicide. The rules are that each person listens to all the tapes and then passes them onto the next person. If the chain is broken there is a second set of tapes which will be publicly revealed.
Thus begins Jay Asher's unusual novel about teen suicide. The novel opens with Clay Jensen, the ninth person to receive the tapes, mailing the tapes onto the next person. What follows is a narrative in Clay's voice of his experience listening to all the tapes, juxtaposed with Hannah's voice on the tapes - a dual narration.
We see how Hannah fails to cope with situation after situation in her life; failing to make close friends or developing a support system both at home and at school. She pushes people away, when she either has the chance or is offered the chance for help and support. It's a recipe for loneliness and disaster.
There are lots of ideas for teens to consider in this novel, making it a great book for a teen group discussion. Possibilities include to what degree are we responsible for friends; signs that someone is contemplating suicide, what teens can do to help a friend in trouble and so forth.
A sad but thoughtful novel that is sure to engage teens on a difficult subject.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
New York: Razorbill 2007