The book Thirteen Reasons Why (number 24 on the NPR’s Top 100 of Teen Fiction) is the story of Hannah Baker and why she committed suicide. It’s told through the eyes of the shy Clay Jensen who had a crush on her and who is sent a box full of tapes from Hannah after her death. It turns out, she wants these tapes forwarded to every person who has contributed to her death, thirteen in total.
On these tapes, Hannah tells her story and it’s heart breaking to see her spiral down to the point of no return. What struck me was that it wasn’t too overly dramatic. Sure, some bad things happened to her, but it was more in the form of a chain reaction, one small act on top of a somewhat bigger act of someone else that led her to the point where she couldn’t take it anymore.
I can really recommend this book to students. It’s well written, compelling and original and you can’t put it down. It’s a story that will offer many familiar experiences for teens, like depression, peer pressure, gossip, partying, the effects of a bad reputation, negative sexual experiences and much more. Obviously depression and becoming suicidal are big themes, so be sure to discuss these with your students if they’ve read the book. But please do read it first yourself before recommending it, as it’s not a Christian book and obviously the content is at point non Christian as well, including some strong language (though not much in all honesty).
It does have sexual references and it describes a rape and a sexual encounter, but it’s not the focus of this book. I would almost call these ‘functional’, as they contributed to Hannah’s reasons for committing suicide. Surely for girls the situations Hannah describes are awfully familiar and may lead to some good conversations on these topics.
If you are looking for a book to read with high school girls to have a discussion on topics like sex, the pressure to have sex, reputation, friendship, the warning signs that someone is depressed, etc, this might be a good choice. It’s also being made into a movie with Selena Gomez playing Hannah. No idea how that will turn out, it could become over-sexualized and lose power, but we’ll see. The book is definitely worth a read!