The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 31, 2008

Book review: ‘13 Reasons’ a gripping story of desperate decision

‘13 Reasons Why’

By Jay Asher

Clay Jensen receives a mysterious package with no return address one day after school. At first he is excited at the prospect of the seven audio cassettes found within, but when he pushes “play” and hears the voice of Hannah Baker, a girl from his high school who committed suicide, his excitement turns to fear and pain.

Before her death, Hannah documented the 13 reasons why she made the decision to end her life. Each of the cassette sides contains the story of one person’s actions or inactions that contributed to her inability to cope. Clay is one of those people and he has no idea what he did. He is terrified to find out, but can’t risk all of the tapes becoming public, so must listen to each and every one.

Hannah’s stories and Clay’s reactions alternate as the book progresses. As each cassette progresses, readers see Clay’s reactions and empathize with his agony over how he could have had a role in Hannah’s misery. He spends an entire night listening to Hannah’s account, wandering the streets of their town guided only by her voice and a map she left in his locker. Each story tears Clay apart a little more as the anticipation to hear his own story grows.

Suicide and thoughts of suicide are very real dangers for today’s teens, and Asher treats the subject with the gravity that it deserves without spilling too much into melodrama. Not only does he address Hannah’s overwhelming feelings of isolation and despair, he gives special attention to Clay and the other characters left behind. Clay is confused about why Hannah, a girl he admired greatly (if from afar), could have come to such a desperate decision, and Hannah’s stories bring to light the fact that we never really know our effect on other people. This is a gripping story that, once started, will not be put down until finished.

“13 Reasons Why” is a preliminary nominee for the Missouri Gateway Readers Award and is recommended for older teens.

‘Right Behind You’

By Gail Giles

Kip McFarland is an angry boy in Alaska dealing with the loss of his mother and the resentment he feels towards his father.

When Bobby Clarke comes by to show off his birthday present — a baseball glove from his mother — Kip can’t keep it together. In a jealous rage, he douses Bobby with gasoline, grabs a lighter and tosses it at his 7-year-old neighbor. Bobby dies three days later, and 10-year-old Kip is admitted to a mental facility for delinquent teens.

After several years with the “Loon Platoon,” his therapist deems him ready for civilian life. To protect themselves from the rage of their Alaskan community, Kip, his father and his new stepmother move to the lower 48 with new names and a cautious hope. Wade (aka Kip) begins school and struggles to fit in. After several humiliating episodes, he joins the swim team, gets a girlfriend and is accepted in the “in” crowd. Despite therapy and his status at school, Wade’s guilt and self-loathing get the better of him and he confesses to his new friends about Bobby. This unleashes a familiar anger from his small town, and his family is forced to move again.

Wade’s parents make it clear that their move to the Texas coast is their last chance to start over. If Wade tells of his past again, there is nowhere left for them to run. Wade seems to be in control until he starts falling for Sam, his beautiful but troubled neighbor. He feels compelled to tell her everything about his past — everything about Bobby. Will she accept him or will his actions cause his family to be ostracized from yet another town?

Giles masterfully tells the story of one teen’s struggle with guilt, self-loathing and self-sabotage. Readers will be riveted from the first page to the satisfying conclusion.

Right Behind You is a preliminary nominee for the Missouri Gateway Readers Award for the 2009-10 award and is recommended for older teens.

Cari Boatright Rérat is the teen librarian at Joplin Public Library.