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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Thirteen Reasons Why* by Jay Asher- young adult book review  
Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
Grades 7+ 304 pages Razorbill October 2007 Hardcover    

Thirteen Reasons Why was such a delightful surprise! I loved the premise when I read about it on someone's blog, but I didn't expect it to be this good.

The book is the story of a girl who has committed suicide before the book starts. The main character is a boy, Clay, who receives a mysterious package in the mail. It turns out that before the girl killed herself, she made a tape consisting of thirteen connected stories about thirteen connected people, and these are her Thirteen Reasons Why - her explanation of why she killed herself.

Clay, who is a really nice kid and cared a lot about the girl, mostly from afar, can't understand why he is one of the reasons. The suspense of wanting to find out the answer to this question kept me reading late two nights in a row.

The format of the book is really clever. We readers read every word Hannah, the dead girl, says on the tape. When Clay is listening to the tape, Hannah's words are italicized. When Clay is thinking or talking with other people between tapes, the font is normal. Clay listens to the tapes in one night, but he's also following a map Hannah included, featuring some of the places where the events in her story occurred. This means Clay has conversations with bus drivers, a friend he borrows a Walkman from, coffee shop clerks, his mother who keeps calling worriedly, and so on.

At one point, he encounters a girl whom I would immediately be concerned about, a girl who used to be involved and outgoing but who now keeps to herself, tries to be invisible, wears baggy sweatsuits and has stopped grooming herself, no longer makes eye contact, has a new hunched posture and a barely-there voice. I would be thinking, "Probable abuse and/or sexual assault victim." But Clay thinks, "Girl who has become really weird."

I worried about that girl through the rest of Clay's evening listening to the tapes, but fortunately, by the time Clay finished the tapes, he knew the girl needed help. I suppose this is a tiny spoiler, but that girl is not a main character. She is a small representation of a girl who can be helped, a girl who might be in a place Hannah was in a few months ago.

Because the sad thing is that as Clay listens to the tapes, he finds out more and more ways that people let Hannah down, more and more times that things could have been turned around for her. The fact that Hannah had reached a point where she was actively expecting to be let down, to the point that she almost forced people to let her down, makes it even harder to take. I was mad at Hannah. She missed so many opportunities herself to get help from caring people like Clay. But I was also mad at the people who allowed her to perceive them as disappointing as everyone else.

It turns out that the people in Hannah's life ranged from truly evil to selfish and clueless, to disturbed, to well-meaning but fumbling, to really good people who didn't have the skills to reach through Hannah's pain and confusion and help the way they would have wanted to.

Another thing that really works in this book is that, unlike in most novels about suicide, we don't only hear the voices of the suicidal person before the act, or the voices of the people left behind after the act. We get all of it. We see how Clay has suffered in the aftermath. We see how Hannah felt beforehand. We even get to see that Clay's mom is more worried about him than usual, that the boy who lent Hannah the voice recorder feels partially responsible. We are left to imagine how teachers, students not mentioned, Hannah's family and other people on the tapes feel, but we're given the chance to form that insight.

One thing that people don't often think of when they're depressed is how peripheral people will feel. How will that clerk at the store where you stopped every day feel? How will the parents of your almost-boyfriend feel? How will this affect the life of that counselor you talked to who didn't manage to help you feel? But this book will help readers, some of whom may be depressed teens themselves, realize how wide a net they actually cast.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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