Suicide. Did I get your attention? Good! It’s a word people don’t like to think about, let alone talk about. Until it is too late. But today we are breaking the silence.
This week’s book review is on the dark, young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why. It is also a Netflix original mini-series. Prior to a year ago, I never heard of the book. Then Paramount came to town. That’s right. The movie was filmed, in part, in my little corner of the Bay.
As I watched the story unfold on the screen it took on a whole new poignancy. I could feel Hannah’s pain. The familiar scenery in the mini-series brought the book to life. Suddenly, you realize that this could be a friend, a neighbor, someone you know. Seeing places you recognize make it seem all the more vivid and real. As a teen, I walked home every day from school past the ‘Baker’s Pharmacy and the Crestmont Theater’ that was portrayed in the series. This is one time a film production moved me as much as the book. Why? Because this time it was my town. I’ve walked these familiar streets, know the landmarks, but did I know the people?
You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever. [Source: Amazon.com]
How it Begins:
Clay Jensen stands in the post office, distracted, as the postal worker tries to gain his attention. He is there to mail a package that will change the recipient’s life forever. The same way his life was altered. He wonders if he should have waited to mail the package until after school. Perhaps then Jenny will know a few more hours of peace. But after a moment of reflection, he realizes she doesn’t deserve it.
“I’m listening to someone give up. Someone I knew. Someone I liked.
I’m listening. But still, I’m too late.”
“Because when you’re posed, you know someone’s watching. You put on your very best smile. You let your sweetest personality shine… And in high school people are always watching so there’s always a reason to pose.”
These are two powerful quotes. Think about it. How many smiles do you see each day that don’t reach someone’s eyes? And, how many times have we all listened to someone’s words, but didn’t hear what they were saying? Asher’s book showcases the dangers teens face and brings to the forefront what can happen when we ignore the warning signs.
What I Enjoyed About This Book
Okay, this isn’t the sort of book you enjoy. At least, it isn’t for me. But it is one that makes you think, which means the book has merit. I can appreciate that aspect. Hannah’s voice will haunt you as you turn the pages. As a parent, this could be your child. If you’re a teen, this could be you. You can’t help but become pulled into the somersault of events that lead to a young woman’s life ending far too soon.
This book left me with a heavy heart. I didn’t eagerly turn page after page, but it was a powerful read. It demonstrates how we do need to address bullying issues and try to get teens to accept one another for their individuality. And, we need to teach our children that rumors are not just words uttered aloud. They are a weapon. They live beyond a moment. They grow. They fester. They alter a life forever.
The mini-series version takes a lot of liberty with the original story, which is why I recommend reading the book. I think teens need to read the ending to the book. They need to know what Clay is feeling in that final moment of the story. It is important.
The book and series both show us that people are cruel and thoughtless. But they are also kind. We must not forget that. It is up to us to teach our children how to treat one another. We are their role models. So if we want them to learn and to mimic our behavior, we must set a higher standard for ourselves as a society.
Jay Asher’s book is definitely compelling. I can easily understand why it made the #1 New York Times Bestseller list. It is a book that belongs on your teen’s bookshelf. Not as a road map on how to commit suicide, but how to learn to prevent it. How not to harm. Yes, it is an extremely heavy subject. However, in my opinion, it is not the point of the story. Hannah’s suicide was a repercussion of the events that were unfolded within the pages. Teens need to know that their actions matter, how they treat one another matters. High school can be a cruel place for many teens. This book puts that under a microscope and proceeds to examine the relationships that your children face every day.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255. For information on suicide prevention visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Next week I look forward to tackling a lighter topic. But until then—this book, or mini-series, lends itself to the perfect opportunity to speak with your child. Read the book together. Get a feel for what your child is doing, how they are feeling. Find out if everything is okay at school. Don’t be put off. This subject isn’t about being comfortable, it is about connecting with your teen and making sure that everything is right in their world.