A look at the novel behind an upcoming Netflix series
Imagine returning home from school to find a mysterious package containing cassette-tape recordings from your crush, a classmate of yours who committed suicide two weeks before.
This is the shocking situation in which Clay Jensen finds himself in “Thirteen Reasons Why,” a 2007 young adult fiction novel written by Jay Asher.
In the novel, Jensen, an introverted high school student, receives a box containing tapes recorded by his classmate and crush Hannah Baker, explaining that there are 13 reasons why she decided to end her own life, with Jensen being one of them. She urges Jensen to listen to the tapes in their entirety to find out how exactly he, along with approximately twelve others, played a part.
The box that Jensen received contains seven tapes; each one double sided and numbered front and back in blue nail polish, except for the seventh tape that is labeled only with a “13.”
While listening, Jensen finds out that each of the 13 recordings discusses a different person who has played a role in Hannah’s death, and that each of these people will be receiving the box of tapes to listen to them. Jensen was the ninth person to receive the package, and so it is his job to pass it off to the final four people who were discussed.
The novel opens with Jensen mailing the package to a girl named Jenny, for reasons unknown to the reader at the time. The novel then utilizes flashback to explain the circumstances and allow the reader to find out what information is imparted through the tapes.
“Thirteen Reasons Why” is told through dual narrative perspectives, so that Baker and Jensen’s thoughts and actions are expertly woven together to create the full picture of what exactly happened to Baker and what, if anything, Jensen will decide to do with this information.
The mystery surrounding Baker’s death slowly unravels as Jensen listens to the tapes and is led around town by a map that was provided by Baker so that her listeners could physically follow her story.
Baker’s story includes rumors, backstabbing friends, and even more sinister encounters with her peers that eventually build up her frustration, shame, and sadness enough to drive her to commit suicide, especially since her warning signs are largely ignored.
Asher’s novel is a heartbreaking tale that shows the ways in which every action, no matter how small it may seem, can have a huge impact on someone else, and that ignoring those in emotional distress can often have serious implications as well.
This critically acclaimed novel is currently being made into a Netflix series, with actress Selena Gomez as one of its executive producers, premiering on March 31.
The cast includes Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen and Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker. Kate Walsh, best known as Dr. Addison Montgomery from “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice,” will be starring alongside them as Hannah’s mother, Mrs. Baker. Oscar-winner Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) is the director for the project, which will include 13 episodes.
Be sure to read Asher’s novel before the tragically realistic mystery comes to life on your TV or laptop screen.