This officially marks the second time I’ve read this book, as well as the second time I’ve used it for a high school book group. I must say, this is a novel that holds up to rereading and remains one of the best discussion books I’ve ever used. The plot sounds simple: a teenaged girl, Hannah Baker, has committed suicide. Before her death, she recorded a series of tapes to be passed from person to person. There are 7 tapes with 13 of the sides used. A “Baker’s dozen”, so to speak. Each side of each tape pertains to a reason that contributed to Hannah’s decision to end her life. Each reason is a person and each person on the tapes has to hear the tapes or risk copies of the tapes being made public. The story is told through the eyes of a boy named Clay, who cannot, for the life of him, figure out what he did to appear on these tapes. Clay had worshiped Hannah from afar and had worked with her, but has never, to his knowledge, done anything to hurt her. The only way to find out why he’s on the tapes is to listen and what he hears will change his life forever.
This is the sort of book that actually does possess the power to change lives. Each and every incident in the book is excruciatingly realistic. All of my teens acknowledged that “stuff like this happens all the time”. The incidents themselves connect in tragic and unexpected ways. Hannah’s story is devastating. She continually hopes that things will get better until everyone she’s ever reached out to has thrown her vulnerability back into her face. Her story reminds us to be actively conscious of our actions. It’s not just about the bullies that overtly harass. It’s also those of us that won’t meet someone’s eye when they pass in the hall. It’s about scooting away from someone at the lunch table. It’s about passing on rumors and ill-informed gossip. It’s about realizing that everyone has a story of their own and that nothing occurs without context. It’s about remembering to listen, to be kind and to be respectful. I know plenty of adults that need to read this as badly as teens do. This is not just a book for teens. This is a book for humans. It may break your heart, but it’s worth it.