“Why you want me to read that crazy suicide book? I don’t got those problems.”
Seven teenagers committed suicide in my small town.
ALL IN ONE YEAR
One hung from the rafters above the goats. One decomposed in a car beside the lake, suicide note and empty pill bottle in hand. Another put a bullet through his brain. The others were less dramatic, but just as horrible, equally memorable.
With one high school in town there wasn’t a single person not connected to the tragic teens. Students, athletes, artists, friends, sons and daughters, they went to school, church, practice, parties—they were everywhere, around everyone, and no one saw the signs. One disastrous choice opened the floodgates and a stream of youth followed. Our little town was blind until we were blindsided.
A year later driving to the airport, preparing for a SCBWI conference, I listened to Jay Asher’s (beautifully read audio version) of Thirteen Reasons Why. Jay was speaking at the conference. I wanted to familiarize myself with his work.
I listened on the plane, during my layover, in the taxi, that night before falling asleep. For hours I was captivated by the story of a girl who committed suicide. Next morning, I searched out Jay Asher, congratulated him. In addition to being a writer, I’m a psychiatric nurse, my specialty, At Risk Youth. Thirteen Reasons Why became an integral part of my therapeutic life, a lifeline for my patients and me.
One evening, in group session, I switched off the television, flipped open a book and began reading aloud.
“Hey!” A heavy-set kid in cowboy hat and boots turned from the window, jabbed a fist toward me. “Why you want to read us that crazy suicide book? We don’t got those kinds a problems.”
A chorus of teen echoes reverberated through the common room. Boys grunting, girls slouching. No one making eye contact.
I smiled, shrugged, read on until silence swallowed the room. Eventually, I paused, took a sip of water and a boy about fifteen leaned toward me, half lounging on the couch.
“What’s wrong with that ho, why she so stupid?”
I tipped my head, counted to three.
“Shut up Mo-Fo.” The oldest member of the group snapped, “That girl’s just whack.”
A tiny grin sparked my lips.
A petite cheerleader with heavy eyeliner smacked her gum. “You’re stupid. Can’t you see how messed up she was? How everybody screwing around with her hurts, bad?”
“Why don’t she tell somebody?” A Skinny boy with a guaze bandage around his wrist, squeaked.
I eyed the kids, waited.
A quiet girl raised pencil-thin eyebrows, whispered at the skinny kid, “Why didn’t you?”
Thirty seconds of DEAD SILENCE, then conversation erupted, words on top of words, spilling out like lava. Every kid had a take on the story, each related to something. Each knew about the seven suicides over the past year. Each had thought about suicide and never told before.
After that, Thirteen Reasons Why became a staple in my office, it supplanted the usual hospital-approved propaganda and morphed into a routine member of group therapy. I frequently sent it home with kids who always said the same thing, “Why do you want me to read this crazy suicide book?” But, every time I handed one out it facilitated conversation, opened up avenues of communication, allowed kids to express themselves, talk about taboo topics.
So, when I think of dark YA that’s had an impact on me, Thirteen Reasons Why immediately springs to mind. Yes, it’s about death, of course there’s violence, mean people, cruelty, sex. But Jay Asher’s book leads to light, like the light at the end of a tunnel. I’m grateful to him for writing an amazing book and for giving me a tool that opens life-saving channels of communication!
Thirteen Reasons Why
By Jay Asher
(From Good Reads)
“Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.
On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.
Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.”