Thirteen Reasons Why is a young adult novel that revolves around a high school student named Clay, who receives a series of tapes recorded by his recently deceased classmate and crush, Hannah Baker, which are about the 13 reasons why she committed suicide.The author has stated that the story was inspired by the, thankfully, failed suicide attempt of his friend. The town it's set in is based off of two towns he's lived in.
This book provides examples of:
Adult Fear: As well as being a Tear Jerker, Thirteen Reasons Why can also be quite unsettling. The whole premise of this book is its detailing of the aftermath of a high school student's death from an overdose of pills after a series of warning signs that many of her teachers and peers (and possibly her parents off-screen) ignored or dismissed. It can seem stupid or sad to any teenager, but it's downright scary to any parent or teacher with teenaged children in their charge.
Alpha Bitch: Subverted; Courtney could have been this, but she chose to appear as being a genuinely nice girl.
An Aesop: Everything affects everything. When you mess with someone's life, you don't mess with just one part. Clay also seems to realise how hard we should try with people we feel are in trouble, as he goes after Skye at the end.
Blatant Lies: More than one of Hannah's reasons involve completely false rumors about her. Ironically, none of them were actually meant to hurt her specifically. See Lack of Empathy below for more information.
Chekhov's Gunman: Remember Tony? The guy working on his car who Clay borrowed the Walkman from? Yeah, HE'S got Hannah's second set of tapes, and has been making sure everyone listens to them. There's also the fact that several people on the tapes turn up again later.
Covert Pervert: Tyler, the photographer for the yearbook, is a peeping tom.
Disproportionate Retribution: Zach steals Hannahs notes at a time when she need them most just because she ignored him. There are also readers who believe that (at least in some cases) Hannah sending out the tapes was this.
Marcus is involved in an attack on Tyler's house, citing Tyler's involvement in Hannah's death as a reason. When Clay points out that Marcus had a major role in events, Marcus pleads innocence and claims he's just a scapegoat - Hannah just wanted to justify killing herself.
Hannah herself. She berates her listeners for failing to help her, for failing to realise that their actions have consequences, and for their cruelty. In her narrative, and especially in sending out the tapes, she ticks all three of those boxes: she fails to protect people on several occasions, she actively hopes that her tapes will scar the listeners for life, and there is definitely an element of spite to the tapes — even going as far as Blackmail. She is fully aware of her own hypocrisy.
Important Haircut: It is mentioned that Hannah got one of these before she died in a bid for positive attention. In fact, one of her reasons for killing herself is her discovery that Zach was stealing the notes she was receiving from her classmates, even those that she presumably got in response to her haircut.
In Medias Res: The book begins with Clay mailing the tapes to Jenny, then goes on to describe the night he listened to them.
Irony: During a Communications class discussion about suicide that was set up in response to an anonymous note from Hannah about how she was thinking of killing herself, one of Hannah's classmates says that she thinks whoever it was that gave the note to the teacher is seeking attention by doing that without identifying themselves.
It's All My Fault: Hannah's tapes are engineered to induce this in whoever's listening to them at the moment.
Lack of Empathy: A major theme of the book is that doing what you please without caring about what happens will always ends horribly, and this is exactly the case for most of the reasons on Hannah's list; they almost never were outwardly trying to ruin her life and make her feel miserable, but doing something for themselves and not caring for how their actions affected the people around them. For instance, the first reason being how her first kiss told everyone that they did a lot more than kissing. He got lots of high-fives from his guy friends? Yay! Only he ruined the memory for Hannah and convinced the entire school she was a slut. This is also Truth in Television, as a good portion of bullying isn't children being legitimately malicious, but just trying to entertain themselves without realizing just who hurtful their fun is.
Laser-Guided Karma: Hannah's tapes. The people she sent them to will always know that they played a role in a young girl's suicide, and a lot of them did in fact have it coming.
Magic Floppy Disk: The tapes. Clay even has to go look for a walkman so he can walk around when he listens. Word of God is that it's intentional, so that the book won't become too dated. By using something that is said to be outdated, it won't seem like an Unintentional Period Piece.
Nice Guy: Clay, to the point that he's only on Hannah's tapes because she wants to apologise to him for acting weird at the party they both went to, instead of having done something that pushed her farther to suicide. Although he does offhandedly mention that he has a few dark secrets of his own.
Never My Fault: When Clay runs into someone else who got the tapes, he asks what was his reason for being on the tapes. He angrily claims that Hannah was just looking for a reason to kill herself and that he himself hadn't really done anything wrong. Clay later regrets not bashing his head in with a rock when he finds out what the reason was.
Sacred First Kiss: This has a lot to do with Hannah's first reason. The boy she kissed spread a rumor saying that they did a lot more than kiss, ruining the memory for her and making her a slut in the student body's eyes.
Switching P.O.V.: A lot is done between Hannah's tapes and Clay's thoughts. The author himself confirmed that he did several rewrites before deciding on simply having Hannah's tapes be italicized and Clay's thoughts being normal, with no other transition or difference between them.
Trauma Conga Line: In the tapes, Hannah talks about how, one by one, an assortment of miseries drove her to kill herself, including being indirectly told that she was an attention seeker for giving an anonymous note to her Communications teacher telling her that she was thinking of killing herself and inspiring a class discussion about suicide in response to aforementioned note.
Unreliable Narrator: Hannah. No matter how sympathetic or unsympathetic you find her, the fact remains that she is a highly distressed young girl teetering on the edge of suicide when she makes the tapes. Her mental state means that she is extremely unlikely to be one hundred percent accurate. It's left up to the reader exactly how unreliable she is, however — was she simply more legitimately stressed and bitter, or did she make connections and assumptions that were completely wrong?
Window Watcher: Tyler, of course. At least, Hannah assumes it's Tyler...