TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY by Jay Asher
October 4, 2010
Nine of ten
|Some books just need to be heard rather than read. Not that they can’t be truly enjoyed visually, but every so often a book is simply better, more powerful, when the eyes are not involved. Though I didn’t realize it until I was in the midst, Th1rteen R3asons Why is one of those books.
The premise alone should convince you that hearing is the primary sense necessary for this book: a high school student receives a box of cassette tapes containing the voice of a recently deceased classmate who relays the story of how she came to commit suicide. Each of the tapes corresponds to the people who played a part in her making such a decision, and the recipient is instructed to listen to all 13 stories and pass the tapes on to the person whose story follows his own. Hearing the story alternate between the male and female narrators, hearing the two voices jut against each other as the girl tells her story and the boy reacts to what he’s hearing, is more powerful than anything I could have conjured in my own mind. The fact that the male protagonist is hearing the girl’s story makes a great case for having the reader hear it, as well. And so I recommend the audio version to everyone. It’s truly like experiencing those tapes for yourself.
My friend Cerella made the best statement about this novel: “Every parent and youth worker should read it.” And she’s right. As I was listening to the girl tell her story — a tale of rumors and student ridicule and bullying and aggression and appearances that are not what they seem and boys going too far and girls cutting down other girls and the emotional turmoil that leads to taking one’s own life — all I was thinking was how much I wanted my 16-year-old niece to hear the story. And how much I could relate to those same emotions when I was a teenager. And how little has changed in social class systems and student relations. And most of all, how little parents understand and how little they try to learn. For over six hours I lay in a darkened room and listened to a story that is more relevant and necessary than anything I’ve ever heard. It breaks my heart to think that teenagers experience the same things over and over and over again, for generations and generations. It breaks my heart that adults remove themselves from it after a time and convince themselves that they don’t know what kids go through. We do know. Those of us who have been there still feel the pain. After more than twenty years, I still feel the pain of high school. It’s important that we never forget for fear of not being able to stop the cycle in the next generations. Which is exactly why this book is so important.
The subject matter of Th1rteen R3asons Why is difficult, at times, but it’s not harsh and it’s not controversial. It’s truth, plain and simple. And it needs to be shared and discussed. Now. If you have a teenager in your life, especially if that teen is your own child, take a day and listen to this book. You’ll never be the same again.