I am utterly addicted to young adult literature right now, and among my latest reads is the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. One of the greatest differences between this book and the others I’ve been reading is the fact that it isn’t supernatural in any way; instead, it’s a book about serious teen issues. Another way it’s different is that it’s by a male author. I don’t think I’ve read any other books by male authors this year.
Asher did an amazing job of combining teen angst and true hard issues with an absolutely riveting mystery. A classmate commits suicide and leaves behind 13 stories recorded on cassette tapes to be passed around to the 13 people who had some role in the decline of her life and, ultimately, her death. The issues that teen girls face is especially made accessible to teen males, as the story is told from a male perspective.
This is the story that needs to be read in every junior high class. I love Ponyboy and Sodapop as much as the next English ed major, but The Outsiders isn’t nearly as relevant as 13 Reasons Why. In a world where 1 in 3 females will experience sexual violence in her lifetime, we need to be focusing on ways to prevent such atrocities—which essentially means teaching boys to not harm girls. We tend to focus on the girls—build your self esteem! No sex until marriage! And plenty of other catch phrases—when we need to focus on guiding men to be not just nonviolent, but respectful beings. I don’t mean to say that all men will be violent, but many will as they are raised to be.
I didn’t like the whole man as a hero line of the story, however, which is the note that not only wove the story together but also that it ended on. I think I would have liked it better had the violent boys in the story received their comeuppance—but then again, that’s not life, either; less than 10 percent of rapists see jail time.
At any rate, I think this book is so important that I would definitely teach it in my classroom—and once the kids in my co-op are this age, I may do just that. It’s also a very quick but moving read—I read it in a couple of hours—so I think that it’s also at a level most teens would be able to understand.