Welcome to this month’s Banned Books post! This month, we read Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.
First published: 2007
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2012 (source)
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group.
Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?
BETH: I always think of this book as a really recent release (maybe because of the series released on Netflix?) so I was really surprised when I saw that it had been originally published in 2007. Ten years is really not much time for attitudes to change in such a drastic way so my answers to this and the next question are going to be the same but I will go into some of the reasons why this book has been challenged/banned. Obviously, the drugs/alcohol/smoking thing does happen in the book but it’s never portrayed in a particularly “things to do that are cool,” way and, to be honest, I think you’re going to be hard pressed to find a young adult book that doesn’t have an element of that lifestyle. Occasionally, I think it’s almost like a rite of passage that (some) teenagers have to go through to experiment/push boundaries and then decide that these things really aren’t for them. I certainly don’t see why this would be a good reason to challenge/ban the book.
CHRISSI: I read this book back in 2014, several years after it had been released. I had heard all of the hype around it and seen so many reviews of it around the blogosphere. So I knew before I read it that I was getting into quite a contentious read. I can understand why this book would be challenged as it has some particularly sensitive subject matter. However, should it be banned? In my opinion, no. There are television programmes that are contain much worse subject matter. Nearly every book for young adults contain ‘bad’ things as these are things that young people experience. I do understand that this book could be potentially triggering to some, but I believe it is a book that should be available. We should trust young people to make their own choices when it comes to reading a book like this. If literature is out there like this it starts a conversation. We need those conversations and young people to be able to feel like they can be heard and understood.
How about now?
BETH: See previous answer! I also feel the same way with the “sexually explicit” reason. There are a couple of horrific moments in the novel that make for uncomfortable reading and may pose a few trigger warnings for anybody particularly sensitive to those topics but again, it really isn’t done in a gratuitous fashion and isn’t really heavy on the intimate details so again, not a great reason for banning the book outright – perhaps a gentle warning on the cover would suffice? Finally there is the element of suicide which is the main and probably most shocking element of the novel. To be honest, I’m not sure what to say about this. It’s never going to be easy reading about a young person killing themselves and all the reasons why they did it but I don’t think this book in any way glamorises suicide. In fact, it may encourage suicidal teenagers to talk about how they are feeling with someone before they try to harm themselves if used in the right way.
CHRISSI: I feel the same way. This book does centre around suicide and I know that’s not a nice thing to read about. It does make for uncomfortable reading. The sexually explicit content is also uncomfortable to read, but it’s not something that I think authors should avoid. As I said before, conversations need to be had. I personally don’t think that the author glamorised suicide.
What did you think of this book?:
BETH: I really enjoyed this book. I had already heard mixed opinions about it from my sister and when I read the novel I could completely see where she was coming from. Hannah’s voice didn’t come across in the best way at times and I really wasn’t sure about her method of using tapes to tell people why she killed herself. However, then Chrissi watched the Netflix series and urged me to do the same. I watched the first episode earlier and thought it was pretty great (I understand there’s been a lot of controversy around this series too but as I said, I’ve only watched the first episode so far!). I think it’s like most hard-hitting books really. In the hands of more sensitive people who have issues with the topics discussed it might not be advisable but in the right hands, I think it could also help a lot of people too.
CHRISSI: I actually enjoyed this book more the second time reading it. I remember having some issues with Hannah’s voice when I read it the first time. She frustrated me a lot and I wanted her to do more for herself. I still had the same issue with Hannah’s voice, but I felt I could understand Hannah more this time around. I think over time I have come to understand mental health more. I think the Netflix series is absolutely fantastic. I know they changed some parts of the book, but I really appreciated how it was handled. It was uncomfortable viewing, just like the book is uncomfortable reading. As I’ve mentioned throughout this post though, both the book and the TV series are encouraging conversations and that’s what is vitally important to me.
Would you recommend it?:
BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Of course!