Thirteen Reasons Why tells the story of why Hannah Baker, one of the novel’s main characters, decides to kill herself. Using a very clever format, Asher begins the novel with Clay, a boy who had a crush on Hannah, receiving an anonymous package of seven cassette tapes, each side bearing a blue-nail polished number in the corner, which adds up to thirteen. On each side of the cassette tapes, Hannah tells a story of how one particular person out of the thirteen on her list led up to her decision to commit suicide. Once that person listens to all of her cassette tapes, he or she is instructed to send the tapes on to the next person on the list or another anonymous character will let loose a second set of tapes, which could lead to jail time or police charges (as some of Hannah’s story involves illegal activity).
There are two time lines weaving together in Thirteen Reasons Why: That of Hannah’s story, which will not alter now that it is recorded, and that of Clay and his reactions to the story that Hannah tells, realizing that he himself had been given many opportunities to stop Hannah from what she ultimately did. Rather than chapter breaks of chronological numbers or asterisks, the narrative is divided up by the universal symbols used for playback systems: play, pause, stop, and rewind. Fortunately, the book does not rely on such a clever device–the content is every bit as devastating as one would expect a suicide note to be.
The major takeaway of the novel is that every person’s action, no matter how big or trivial, affects somebody else. Violent incidents, such as rape, suicide, and murder, do not just happen. They are the end result of a chain of action and reaction, and often an “innocent” bystander is given many chances to intervene and stop the cycle from reaching completion.
At the end of Thirteen Reasons Why, there’s a Q and A with the novel’s author Jay Asher, where he talks about why he used outdated technology–cassette tapes–to tell the story. Asher says that he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep up with current technology while writing the novel and things would inevitably change during the long process between manuscript and a finished bound book. His solution–to replace current trends with a “classic.” I like this reasoning, and I think it will work to give Thirteen Reasons Why a long shelf life.