Asher’s novel strikes a chord with modern youth

Morgan Mickavicz, Assist. Op Ed Editor

 Jay Asher’s 2007 novel “13 Reasons Why” gives a deeply emotional glimpse into the struggles young people often face.


     Jay Asher’s best-selling Young Adult (YA) novel, “13 Reasons Why,” has become Netflix’s most-watched series, as cited by Teen Vogue, InStyle and The Huffington Post. The novel was originally published in 2007, and ten years later it’s become a Netflix hit and has connected with more than two million readers and viewers. The book and show follow Clay Jensen, a high school student, as he listens to the thirteen tapes left behind by his crush, Hannah Baker, each describing one of the reasons why she chose to kill herself.

     The message behind Asher’s “13 Reasons Why” is, of course, that we never know what sorts of battles others are fighting or how our words and actions can affect them. Essentially, we should always be kind, but it goes far beyond that. As I reread the book as a college sophomore, I realized that I personally had experienced, or knew someone who had been through, each of the events Hannah Baker recalls as a reason for taking her own life.
Hannah Baker’s stories include backstabbing friends, jerk guys, rumors, rape, drugs and alcohol, lying and feeling alone in the world. She talks about “the snowball effect,” meaning there was no one reason why she ended her life, or even thirteen, but that her decision to take her own life by swallowing pills was because of so many stomach-turning events which seemed impossible to overcome.

     As I read the fiction book for the first time, it felt like just that: fiction. It was a dark and twisty page-turner that intrigued me. I read it again, and this time it felt more like a nonfiction chiller. While I read each one of Hannah Baker’s tapes, I was thinking about my own personal experiences with bad friends, guys who tried to take advantage of me, rumors and my friends’ unfortunate experiences. I kept the book in the back of my mind as I went through high school and realized Jay Asher’s fiction story could easily become any young adult’s reality. That is disheartening, but also oddly comforting.

     The fact that Asher’s novel has become a best-seller and a Netflix hit has proved how many lives it resonated with; it is relatable. It is nice to know that there are other people out there who can relate to this story; feeling alone, betrayed, and broken. But, it is heart-wrenching to think that Hannah Baker’s fate could become anyone’s.

     The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) cites that suicide is currently the tenth- leading cause of death in the United States with 121 suicides occurring daily. Jay Asher’s novel may have been written ten years ago, but the relatability of his story still stand today and with the rise of social media, being a young adult is only becoming increasingly difficult.

     The Parent Resource Program Jason Foundation (PRPJF) an organization dedicated to the prevention of suicide (particularly among youth), cites that suicide is the second-leading cause of death in college-age individuals and youth aged 12-18. They also state that more teenagers and college-age individuals die from suicide annually than they do from “cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.”

     The characters in “13 Reasons Why” begin to realize the signs that Hannah Baker was having a hard time, and the PRPJF states that on average, four out of every five teens and young adults who commit suicide showed clear warning signs that they needed help.

     So, yes, “13 Reasons Why” is an incredible book. However, it is much more than that. It is a warning, it is cautionary, it is telling us that suicide is a huge problem facing today’s youth. That’s no wonder considering the expectations placed on teens and young adults to succeed, look a certain way, act a certain way, how quickly rumors spread and how social media is impacting our youth.

     So, we should appreciate “13 Reasons Why” for its literary and cinematic values, sure, but we also need to consider and value the important statements it is making. We need to not only be kind to others, but remind each other that nobody is alone in this world and ensure that help is always accessible. If you are having suicidal thoughts or are afraid a friend is in danger, call 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK, national suicide hotlines sponsored by suicide prevention organizations.
Never be afraid to ask for help.