Saturday, March 3, 2012

Depression in Fiction: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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This debut novel by Jay Asher caught my eye as a book lover by continuing to resurface on the New York Times Best-Seller list. I am a big fan of young adult fiction, but initially I wasn't interested in reading a book dealing with teen suicide.

From the official book website:
"Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box 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. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out how he made the list. Through Hannah and Clay's dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers."

The premise made me nervous. I imagined an angry, depressed teenager planning revenge against her tormentors, hoping to crush them with guilt after her death. How was this kind of bitter story going to help?

However, the book kept resurfacing, and I knew it had to be a richer story than that. I actually listened to the audio version, which was extremely powerful, like I was hearing Hannah's tapes along with the other main character, Clay. As the story unfolded, we are taken on a journey of chain reactions. Rumors compound with bullying and accusations and self-perception. Ultimately, we see both the power of speaking up and reaching out. Through Clay, we gain hope for the future. I would definitely recommend this book as it is so layered, and would be a great catalyst for discussions (a discussion guide is conveniently posted on the official website).

The book's website also has a great community based on reactions to the book, called 13RWproject, where readers are encouraged to share their stories.

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