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Behind The Tapes: Unraveling “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher

book review

Cassettes, remember those? Before the era of ubiquitous screens and digital clouds, we recorded our most intimate thoughts on these relics. Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why” hands us one such artifact, loaded with despair, questions, and the unsettling echo of a life lost too soon.

Plot Summary

When high schooler Clay Jensen finds a box of seven double-sided cassette tapes on his doorstep, he unwittingly embarks on a heart-wrenching journey. These tapes are not an old music mix, but a recorded suicide note from Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush, who tragically took her own life two weeks prior. Each tape reveals a reason – or rather, a person – contributing to her desperate act, and Clay is one of them.

Notable Quotes:

“You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own.”

“Everything… affects everything.”


Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why” is a Pandora’s box of teenage despair. He masterfully utilizes the cassette tape motif, giving us a hauntingly intimate understanding of Hannah’s struggle. Each reason is a knot in the string of her life, and as Clay listens, we find ourselves tangling with him in that string.

The narrative alternates between Clay’s reactions and Hannah’s tape recordings. This parallel storytelling intensifies the suspense, even though we already know the tragic end. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion—you know what’s coming, but you can’t tear your eyes away.

The characters are brilliantly drawn, with Hannah’s voice echoing in our ears long after we’ve put the book down. Asher doesn’t shy away from confronting serious issues such as bullying, betrayal, and sexual assault, making this a gritty, real portrayal of high school life.

However, the book does have its flaws. The notion that Hannah blames others entirely for her death feels troubling. It seems to oversimplify the complex issue of suicide and may lead to misconceptions about mental health. Yet, the book does succeed in highlighting the importance of empathy and the profound impact our actions can have on others.


With its raw emotion and compelling narrative, I’m giving “Thirteen Reasons Why” a solid 4 out of 5. Despite its controversial message, it serves as a stark reminder of the ripple effects of our actions.

Author Bio

Jay Asher, born in Arcadia, California, in 1975, had been publishing humor novels before he took a somber turn with “Thirteen Reasons Why”. His debut young adult novel, originally published in 2007, quickly gained international acclaim and inspired a successful Netflix adaptation. Jay continues to write, with a focus on emotionally charged, thought-provoking stories.

Study or Book Club Questions:

  1. How does the dual narrative enhance the story?
  2. In what ways did Hannah’s reasons affect you?
  3. Could Hannah’s tragedy have been prevented? If so, how?
  4. How does the book handle the topic of mental health? Is it successful?

Where to buy

Ready to delve into the poignant mystery of “Thirteen Reasons Why”? You can find it here on Amazon. Be prepared, it’s a heart-wrencher.

TV Series Adaptation

“Thirteen Reasons Why” made the leap from page to screen in 2017, with a series adaptation on Netflix. It garnered mixed reviews and came with its share of controversy. Just like the book, the show didn’t shy away from addressing heavy topics such as suicide, sexual assault, and bullying. The series diverges from the novel in many respects, expanding the narrative to four seasons and introducing new plotlines and characters to maintain the suspense and drama.

One thing you have to give it to the series creators, they definitely didn’t hold back. Some scenes were so graphic, they sparked discussions about whether they were necessary for the storyline or if they crossed the line into the realm of gratuitous. Nevertheless, the series kept the audience on their toes and the performances, particularly by Katherine Langford as Hannah and Dylan Minnette as Clay, were commendable.

So, if you’re in the mood for a binge-watch, you might want to give it a shot. But be prepared for the intensity. And remember, the TV show is a different beast altogether compared to the book, so brace yourself for a slew of additional plot twists and character developments.

TV Series link: Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix

Note: If you’re sensitive to the heavy topics the series addresses, it may be best to give it a skip or at least ensure you’re in the right frame of mind before diving in. There’s no shame in choosing not to watch something that might be triggering. Your mental health should always come first.

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