Hannah Baker committed suicide. But not before she left behind 13 tapes explaining exactly what and who it was that drove her to make the decision to die. Clay, who had a crush on Hannah, is one of the so-called “Baker’s dozen” [13 people] to receive the tapes with the command to listen and pass them on, lest their sins be revealed to a much larger audience. The problem is, he doesn’t belong on this list. Or does he?
In this work Jay Asher forces us to acknowledge the difficult truth of many teen suicides: it was not the individuals alone which brought them to that point. The tapes of Hannah Baker go completely against the usual psycho-babble which we are often treated to when someone kills them self (“It was no one’s fault”). Instead his protagonist has no trouble making sure those responsible know exactly what part they played in her decision.
Books dealing with suicide can be tough ground to cover in the young adult literature world. Part of this is because the topic is often one which teens are all too familiar with; which is not to say that people (parents, educators, librarians) should work themselves into a frenzy thinking that all teens are suicidal. These books are also difficult to write because they can all too easily become preachy works which end with the requisite supplemental material where *you can find help*.
Yet Asher has succeeded with a book that leaves the reader feeling every bit as voyeuristic as you imagine the characters must feel listening to Hannah measure out blame. The message is not an upbeat one—but one could hardly expect that from a work dealing with teen suicide. What it succeeds in doing, most poignantly at the end, is in reminding us that sometimes even the smallest dramas have larger repercussions. A fact which cannot be understated when dealing with teens.