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Dear Maggie,

Thirteen Reasons Why needs to be read. By everyone. High schoolers, teachers, parents, and the rest of us. It reminds us that “everything affects everything.”* All our actions, however seemingly small and inconsequential, affect everyone around us. We need to treat each other gently.

I chose Thirteen Reasons Why to read for Banned Books Week even though it is, from what I can tell, not actually banned. Instead, it encapsulates the essence of Banned Books Week: the celebration of reading books that may be controversial, that have the ability to open minds with new perspectives, that take on tough subjects, and that (generally) are very well written. Since I’m so late in posting this, you had time to get a library copy so we can read it for book club. I’m a bit relieved, since it’s one deep book.

A brief recap for anyone who hasn’t read it (or else these posts will make no sense!), the story is about Hannah, a high school junior who committed suicide. Before she died, she recorded 6 and a half tapes, thirteen sides, with each side containing a story of how a person and their actions led to her final decision. Thirteen sides, thirteen people on the list. Our narrator is Clay. The tapes arrive on his doorstep after being anonymously sent to him by the previous person on the list. We “listen” to the tapes as he does, seeing all of Hannah’s recordings in italics interspersed with Clay’s thoughts and actions. While Clay wanders around city, the reader and Clay struggle together to understand Hannah’s death.

The book is written like a thriller. To be truthful, given it’s topic, I feel a bit guilty for enjoying the read so much. It was a deep-seated curiosity and desire to understand why Hannah would do such a thing that kept me reading. The style of this story is incredibly unique and is crucial to the book. You need to hear Hannah’s story in her own voice: her experiences, her reasoning, her responses. But you need Clay to show the survivor’s reaction: the guilt and confusion for being on the tapes, the anger and sadness in her death. The book walks this delicate line with grace. Though Hannah’s tapes are placing blame on 13 people, we, as the readers, can see how no one is truly innocent nor completely to blame in Hannah’s death: not her peers and not Hannah herself. Instead, her decision was a result of an accumulation of events, some her own and some caused by the 13. Even though you know Hannah’s fate from the first page of the book, I kept hoping to find an answer that would save her.

This has, understandably, been a controversial book since its release in 2007. Obviously it addresses suicide, but also sex, rape, parities, and alcohol. It hits almost every reason a book is usually banned, except for maybe language.  I truly hope it is not challenged and instead becomes required high school reading. Tough subjects should not be silenced and repressed—that’s not going to make them go away. Instead they should be read and discussed so we can all understand each other a little better. Thirteen Reasons Why is a beautiful book. As you talked about in your post about The Sky is Everywhere, we are all trapped in our own first-person bubbles.  Since we can never know another person’s thoughts or life, we should always treat each other with kindness.

Love,

Kelsey

* pg 202

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