Monday, May 8, 2017

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Considering the recent media blast about this book and the HBO series, I thought it wise to take a second look.  Admittedly, I flew through the alternating voice, young adult novel, interested but not fully anticipating the impact it would and could have.

Usually I can give a confident thumbs upor thumbs down for a book, but this subject - teen suicide - demands more.  First of all, read with caution.  This is not book to put in the hands of a pre-teen, unless that boy or girl has an adult in his/her life for some follow up conversation.  Actually, I hope that every single person who reads this book has an opportunity to discuss it with someone.  The challenge to discuss makes this a valuable book.  13 Reasons Why is a starting point.

When the book opens, we learn that Hannah has committed suicide.  This was not a spur of the moment decision, but rather one that came after a series of events she found impossible to overcome.  Hannah made a set of carefully planned recordings which she mailed with the intent of them being routed to a list of thirteen people.  It's hard to tell if her intentions were to place blame, to create awareness, or to affect change.  

On the simplest of levels, this book reminds us how impactful our actions can be.  We all know that we should be nice.  Honesty, disagreement, challenge and other human interaction can all be handled nicely, but we often forget that.  Personal stress, time constraints and yes, just bad vibes from the other person can get in the way of how we know productive interaction should take place.  Many of the reasons Hannah gives us for her suicide could be considered superficial, but the aggregate of those actions was clearly  powerful.  

We don't know too much about Hannah before we hear her post mortem voice sharing taped messages with people who entered her life, and whose actions contributed to her suicide.  We don't know if mental health issues entered into the picture, and that's the other point that makes this a powerful piece.  We just don't know, do we?  Cultivating empathy in today's society, especially in light of our current administration's acceptance of crude, raunchy behavior, is essential.  We are all vulnerable in some way, but some of us are just more stubborn and more resilient than others.  Who knows what can happen when mentally unhealthy individuals find themselves the target of bullying and other insensitive behaviors?  

Many people have spoken up against this book saying that it glorifies suicide.  I can't agree with that - not glorifying anyway.  But I can see how, in the mind of a teen would may be troubled, unhealthy, or emotionally battered, suicide could be viewed as a statement.  The concepts of reality and long term consequences don't always resonate in young people's minds, and for that reason, I believe this book should be read with caution and guidance.