13 Reasons Why - Using Mental Health Issues for Shock Value
by Jay Asher
Published in 2007
I watched the Netflix Original TV show 13 Reasons Why before I got a chance to read the book. I really enjoyed the TV show and found it to be extremely interesting and thought provoking even though I could see why it was very controversial. Even though Hannah Baker narrated her thoughts and feelings for the show, I feel like there is something so much more intimate about reading a character’s thoughts and feelings so I went hunting for the book to learn more about 13 Reasons Why.
13 Reasons Why begins when Clay receives a package in the mail from his friend Hannah Baker. The only problem is she is dead after recently committing suicide. Inside the package is a set of 13 tapes with a note to listen to the tapes and pass onto the next person whose name will be in the tapes. As if that isn’t bad enough, the note says the tapes will reveal the 13 reasons why she killed herself and that if they received the tapes, they were one of the reasons why.
1. The first tape is dedicated to Justin, a popular jock boy she had a crush on in the past. After a kiss in the park, he tells others that Hannah is really a slut and that rumor begins to go around the school.
2. The second tape is dedicated to Alex Standall who creates a “hot or not” list and lists Hannah as having the best ass which results in boys staring and trying to touch her as she passes.
3. The third tape is dedicated to Hannah’s ex-best friend Jessica. While her, Alex, and Jessica were best friends, Jessica began dating Alex until they eventually broke up. Jessica spread rumors shortly after that Hannah was responsible for their breakup.
4. The fourth tape is dedicated to Marcus Cooley who asks Hannah on a date and tries to put a move on her, accusing her of teasing him when he’s heard the rumors.
5. The fifth tape is dedicated to Tyler Down who was stalking Hannah. He also took pictures of her in the privacy of her room through the window which made Hannah start feeling unsafe not only at school but at home too.
6. The sixth tape is dedicated to Courtney Crimson who was supposed to be Hannah’s friend but spreads a rumor that she found “sex toys” in her room, further supporting the rumor of Hannah’s promiscuity.
7. The seventh tape is dedicated to Zach Dempsey who like Marcus had heard the rumors about Hannah and tried to act on it. After being rejected, he begins stealing her “notes of encouragement” in class that Hannah would look forward to reading.
8. The eighth tape is dedicated to Ryan Shaver for publishing a private poem Hannah wrote without her permission which was harshly criticized by the student body.
9. The ninth tape is dedicated to Jenny Kurtz who after driving Hannah home from a party crashed into a stop sign. She decides to leave the sign down and not report it which later results in a classmate being killed in a car accident.
10. The tenth tape is when we get to Clay… only for it to be revealed that he is NOT one of the reasons she killed herself. They had feelings for each other but Hannah reveals there was nothing Clay could have done to save her once her mind was made up.
11. The eleventh tape is dedicated once again to Justin because of a party they went to. At the party, Justin drops his girlfriend Jessica off upstairs to sleep after she becomes almost blackout drunk. While there, Justin lets a friend into the room who proceeds to rape Jessica while Hannah watches from the closet she hid in. She doesn’t just blame Justin though and blames herself as well for not saying anything.
12. The twelfth tape is dedicated to Bryce Walker. It turns out he was the one who raped Jessica and after attending another party proceeds to rape Hannah.
13. The thirteenth tape is dedicated to their guidance counselor Mr. Porter. After coming to him for guidance after the rape, Mr. Porter suggests that if she’s not willing to report him that she should learn to “get over it”.
The talk with Mr. Porter ends up being the last straw for Hannah and that is when she goes through with the suicide. Clay is devastated after listening to the tapes to learn of all the horrors Hannah had to experience. He is even more devastated to see so many people involved and yet no one could help her. After delivering the tapes to the next person, Clay returns to school and runs into an old friend Skye who he fears may also have suicidal thoughts and decides to befriend her.
Final Rating & Thoughts: 5/10
13 Reasons Why was an extremely interesting and thought provoking novel because I think there are aspects of the novel that really state a message about how we address mental health, but I also find that at times it can be a little too extremist. This novel is a tricky one to review because the message behind the story is just as important as the story itself. There honestly isn’t a character in this book that I like, not even Clay himself. I understand that the characters on the tapes weren’t mean to be liked, hence why they were one of the 13 reasons why, but I also found Clay to be at times righteous. He’s sympathetic and caring for Hannah Baker and even goes the extra step to befriend someone on the same path as her, yet he passes on the tapes to the next person instead of immediately bringing to her parents or the police!
This is one of the (rare) few books where I felt the TV show was much more engaging than the book. I think something that really limited the book but was further explored in the show was getting to see the perspectives of the characters on the top. In the novel, we only ever get to see them from Hannah’s point of view which means each character was villainized. However, in the TV show we get to see more insight into the other characters and see how they didn’t understand how their actions were affecting Hannah because they had other stuff going on in their lives too. For example, Jenny Kurtz is on the list and she is almost painted as this murderous girl who’s responsible for the death of someone after knocking down the stop sign. In the show though she is clearly someone who is kind and intelligent and she had no idea what would happen after the accident. She even volunteers help for the family who experienced the loss as a way to make up for the accident. In the novel though, we don’t get to see this kind of complexity to her character. We only get to see her as “one of the reasons why”.
The thing I hated THE MOST about this book was the entire concept of the 13 reasons why. I found it to be accusing and almost rationalizing her actions as if Hannah Baker’s suicide is acceptable because of everything she experienced when the discussion should have been more focused on mental health and finding help in times of depression, suicidal thoughts, and sexual assault. Once again, I feel like the show handles this better even with just having their PSA at the beginning of each episode of finding help when you are struggling. Overall, if given the choice between the show and the book, I might recommend the show unless you are someone who is easily triggered, then don’t bother with either. I have to commend this book for addressing something that really is a difficult topic to talk about and doesn’t get enough attention. I only wish something as sensitive as this was handled better.