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Literature / 13 Reasons Why

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Thirteen Reasons Why is a young adult novel from 2007 written by American writer, Jay Asher. The story 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 relative. The town it's set in is based off of two towns he's lived in.

The book has been adapted into a TV series on Netflix, with Selena Gomez as an executive producer. Tropes for that series should go on its respective page.

This book provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Had Mr. Porter just listened, Hannah might still be alive. Hannah's parents also qualify.
  • Alliterative Name: Courtney Crimsen.
  • 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.
  • Black Comedy: Most of the story is very bleak and somber, but every now and then, Hannah cracks a joke on the tapes. Girl's got a dark sense of humor.
  • 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.
  • Cassette Craze: Hannah Baker records several tapes, detailing the events she believes are the ones that ended in her suicide. Said tapes are then sent to the thirteen people she blames, or in the case of Clay Jensen, the people she wants to apologize to.
    • Hannah records the tapes with the help of Tony Padilla, who is one of the few people in the town who still uses cassette tapes. Later on, it's revealed that Tony is the person who has the second set of tapes, and is willing to release them to the public.
  • 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.
  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Hannah's parents (who incidentally run a shoe store) care about the community, but they Failed a Spot Check with their daughter's emotional well-being.
  • Covert Pervert: Tyler, the photographer for the yearbook, is a peeping tom.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Some of Clay and Hannah's comments definitely fall into this, and they're usually quite witty.
  • Deuteragonist: Hannah and Clay.
  • 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.
  • Driven to Suicide: Thirteen Reasons Why is 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. The Netflix series takes it a step further, showing Hannah's and other students' parents reactions to the tragedy.
  • The Film of the Book: Universal was once confirmed to be making one, with Selena Gomez playing Hannah. Subverted — the book was eventually made into a Netflix miniseries, with a cast of almost complete unknowns. Selena Gomez is a producer, though.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Story number 13. Hannah's "last chance", Mr. Porter fails to give her any sort of help, ending with her resolving to kill herself. Made worse by Clay breaking down in Eisenhower Park, begging for him to succeed.
  • Gallows Humor: Hannah makes some snide and darkly humorous comments about her own suicide on the tapes. She even lampshades that the listener probably won't find them as amusing as she does.
  • Goths Have It Hard: Heavily implied in the case of Skye. She is a background character for most of the story, and all we know about her is that she's a goth; this is explicitly why Clay singles her out at the end of the story and reaches out to her, so she won't kill herself like Hannah. While we never explicitly find out why, the narrative seems to support pretty clearly that Skye's goth self-expression is very indicative of serious problems.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Hannah denounces herself in the tapes for not intervening when Bryce raped an unconscious girl at a party.
  • Hypocrite:
    • 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. 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 end 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 now people are making fun of her for "being easy." 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 how hurtful their fun is.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: Hannah Baker has thirteen stories to tell. A Baker's Dozen. The author admits that this is the main reason he chose thirteen. It also works in the sense that there are twelve people featured on the tapes, with Justin counted twice. Clay realises this pun in the beginning of the book, and is immediately disgusted with himself for thinking of it.
  • 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.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: While not the last, Clay's entry on the list was not meant to be Hannah's explanation of how he helped push her to killing herself. On the contrary, she was using it as an opportunity to apologize for acting rudely to him at a party. The time she'd spent with him made her feel genuinely happy.
    • Although Clay does not agree with this assessment, thinking his connection at the party with her should have allowed him to talk her out of killing herself, meaning that he is just as culpable as Mr. Porter, who also was unable to figure out Hannah was suicidal.
    • In the last tape, instead of explaining what Mr. Porter did wrong, she is attempting to give herself a last chance, to get help so she won't do this. Mr. Porter, instead, leaves her with a message that causes her to make the decision to kill herself. It was different because she had decided to give herself one last chance until Mr. Porter failed to help her.
  • Letters 2 Numbers: The title of the book is written on the cover as "Th1rteen R3asons Why". Could also count as Lucky Charms Title, if only for stylistic purposes.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Courtney, probably. She's popular, but friendly to everyone — and shallow and flaky and kind of manipulative. Despite that, she honestly doesn't seem to realize the damage she does to others. Hannah, despite including her as a reason, comments that she doesn't really hate, or even dislike Courtney.
  • 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.
  • New Kid Stigma: A tragic example. Since no one at school knew Hannah at the time, it was easy for her peers to believe the rumors that were spread about her. The bullying, along with other forms of harassment, resulted in her eventual suicide.
  • 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. He also feels guilty that he wasn't able to figure out she was suicidal at the party and for leaving when she asked him to—which also inadvertently allowed a largely unrelated rape to occur.
    • Also, Tony. He's friendly to Clay, and tries to console him when he gets to his tape. He's also the person that Hannah trusted with the second set of tapes, which, given how little she trusted people towards the end of her life, says quite a bit about his character.
  • 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.
  • Sexiness Score: Deconstructed. When a list ranking all the girls by their body parts is circulated. Many girls, whether they had good scores or bad, are humiliated, and Hannah being listed as "Best Ass in the Freshman Class" leads to her getting groped, among other things.
  • Stress Vomit: Clay has to open Tony's car door and throw up at the roadside at one point whilst listening to Hannah's account of witnessing a rape.
  • 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.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: Invoked by Hannah in the last tape when she goes to Mr. Porter's office and he misses the signs of her suicidality. It doesn't work.
    • The book ends with Clay deciding to engage with Skye, who he suspects might be heading in the same direction as Hannah.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Played with. Clay is clearly not, but some of the teens featured on Hannah Baker's Greatest Hits are guilty of this. Bryce especially.
  • There Are No Therapists: Lampshaded by Clay. Subverted by #13 on Hannah's list, Mr. Porter, the school counselor. His advice and complete misreading of Hannah's cries for help is what ultimately convinces her to commit suicide.
  • 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? Notably, our other narrator, Clay, largely but not entirely agrees with Hannah's assessments after he hears them.
  • Window Watcher: Tyler, of course. At least, Hannah assumes it's Tyler...