This novel opens with Clay Jensen at a post office dispatching a box of tapes he has recently listened to. He is now passing them on to the next person, following the instructions of the voice on the tape. The voice on the tape is Hannah Baker – his classmate and first real crush – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah has identified the thirteen people she believes played a role in her decision to kill herself and wants them to hear her story. The recipients are informed that if someone decides to destroy the tapes, or withhold them, then there is an extra set that will be released for everyone to hear.
The main problem with Thirteen Reasons Why is the idea that a teenager, considering suicide, would sit down and record several hours of material, clearly detailing and pinpointing the people and situations that have led them to such a desperate place. It seems unlikely that a person suffering so much would have the energy and clear thinking to plan and organize such an operation. It also seems cruel that some people find themselves on the tapes for doing very little wrong. Mr Porter, the school counsellor, is included because Hannah believes he didn’t help her enough during the one session they had together.
Whilst Thirteen Reasons Why is brave to tackle the topic of teenage suicide and doesn’t flinch from detailing the emotional impact this has on the people left behind, it somehow doesn’t have the ring of truth. Readers might instead turn to the Carnegie short listed The Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray which covers similar ground with authority and a lightness of touch that belies the subject matter.