With a successful youth suicide the central theme of the novel, readers are left in no doubt that Jay Asher's bestselling novel Thirteen Reasons Why (stylised as TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY,) is going to be uncomfortable and possible provocative reading. Clay Jenson, a mild mannered, high achieving high school student has just arrived home and found a package waiting for him that contains eight cassettes. On the tapes are thirteen stories, recorded by Hannah Baker, one of Clay's classmates who committed suicide a few weeks previously. The thirteen stories explain why she has chosen to take her own life. The novel follows a duel narrative--Hannah tells her story and we also read Clay's reaction to each of the tapes. (Note: the novel was originally published in 2007 when cassettes, though old technology, were still possible to access.)
Thirteen Reasons Why was not easy reading and I think that the book is all the better for that. It is difficult not to feel for Hannah as she tells her story of being an outcast at her school, of being bullied and humiliated and of one heartbreaking incident leading in to a worse one at every turn. Through Clay, we also get to read about the anguish, and humiliation, felt by her peers for doing nothing or not understanding enough to address the situation. Through Clay, we also get to challenge Hannah's beliefs about herself and others, and whether or not there really was another way out. We also see the potential harm that she has done, by sending out the tapes. Ultimately, it examines the reasons why people may sometimes do stupid things and how the choices they make can impact on others, and through minor character Skye, we learn the importance of reaching out to other people.