I began reading Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why this morning… Now I’m at home and the weekend has officially started and I’m still reading.
In summary, the story is told from the point of view of Clay, a high school student who one day found a shoebox on his doorstep. Inside the shoebox were seven cassette tapes. Once he starts playing it, he realizes it was a recording made by Hannah Baker – another student who, two weeks before, committed suicide. Through these seven cassettes, Hannah talks about her thirteen reasons for taking her life… And that Clay was one of them.
Try to understand why I can’t seem to stop with this story…
When she first walked by me in the halls, with her hair cut so much shorter, I couldn’t keep my mouth from falling open. And she looked away. Out of habit, she tried brushing the hair out of her face and behind her ears. But it was too short and kept falling forward.
(Hannah’s voice) Come to think of it, I cut my hair the very day Marcus Cooley and I met at Rosie’s. Wow! That’s weird. All those warning signs they tell us to watch out for, they’re true. I went straight from Rosie’s to get my hair cut. I needed a change, just like they said, so I changed my appearance. The only thing I still had control over.
She pauses. Silence. Just static, barely audible, in the headphones.
(Hannah’s voice) I’m sure the school had psychologists come in loaded with handouts, telling you what to look for in students who might be considering…
(Hannah’s voice) No. Like I said before, I can’t say it.
Suicide. Such a disgusting word.
The next day, when I found my bag empty, I knew something was up. At least, I thought something was up. The first few months of class I received maybe four or five notes. But suddenly, after the telltale haircut… nothing.
So after my haircut, I waited a week.
Then two weeks.
Then three weeks.
I push my glass across the counter and look at the man down by the register. “Can you take this?”
(Hannah’s voice) It was time to find out what was going on. So I wrote myself a note.
He shoots me a hard look while counting back change. The girl on this side of the register also looks at me. She touches her ears.
The headphones. I’m speaking too loud.
“Sorry,” I whisper. Or maybe it doesn’t come out at all.
(Hannah’s voice) “Hannah,” the note said. “Like the new haircut. Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.” And for good measure, I added a purple smiley face.
To avoid the major embarrassment of getting caught leaving myself a note, I also wrote a note for the bag next to mine. And after class, I walked to the bookrack and made a show of dropping a note in that other bag. Then I casually ran my hand around the inside of my bag, pretending to check for notes. And I say “pretending” because I knew it would be empty.
And the next day? Nothing in my bag. The note was gone.
Maybe it didn’t seem like a big deal to you, Zach. But now, I hope you understand. My world was collapsing. I needed those notes. I needed any hope those notes might have offered. And you? You took that hope away. You decided I didn’t deserve to have it.
The longer I listen to these tapes, the more I feel I know her. Not the Hannah from the past few years, but the one from the past few months. That’s the Hannah I’m beginning to understand. Hannah at the end.
The last time I found myself this close to a person, a person slowly dying, was the night of the party. The night I watched two cars collide in a dark intersection.
Then, like now, I didn’t know they were dying.
Then, like now, there were a lot of people around. But what could they have done? Those people standing around the car, trying to calm the driver, waiting for an ambulance to arrive, could they have done anything at all?
Or the people who passed Hannah in the halls, or sat beside her in class, what could they have done?
Maybe then, like now, it was already too late.
(Hannah’s voice) So Zach, how many notes did you take? How many notes were there that I never got to read? And did you read them? I hope so. At least someone should know what people really think of me.
I glance over my shoulder. Tony’s still there, chewing a french fry and pumping ketchup on a hamburger.
(Hannah’s voice) I admit, during class discussions I didn’t open up much. But when I did, did anyone thank me by dropping a note in my bag? That would have been nice to know. In fact, it might have encouraged me to open up even more.
This isn’t fair. If Zach had any idea what Hannah was going through, I’m sure he wouldn’t have stolen her notes.
(Hannah’s voice) The day my self-written note went missing, I stood outside the classroom door and started talking to someone I’d never spoken with before. I looked over her shoulder every few seconds, watching the other students check their bags for notes.
That sure looked like a lot of fun, Zach.
And that’s when I caught you. With a single finger, you touched the lip of my bag and tilted it down just enough to peek inside.
So you headed toward the door without checking your own bag, which I found very interesting.
The man behind the counter picks up my glass and, with a chocolate-stained rag, wipes the counter.
(Hannah’s voice) Of course, that didn’t prove anything. Maybe you just liked seeing who was getting notes and who wasn’t… with a particular interest in me.
So the next day, I came into Mrs. Bradley’s room during lunch. I took my paper bag off the rack and reattached it with the tiniest sliver of tape. Inside, I placed a little note folded in half. Again, when class was over, I waited outside and watched. But I didn’t talk to anyone this time. I just watched.
The perfect setup.
You touched the lip of my bag, saw the note, and reached in. The bag fell to the floor and your face turned bright red. But you bent down and scooped it up anyway. And my reaction? Disbelief. I mean, I saw it. I expected it, even. But I still couldn’t believe it. While my original plan called for me to confront you right then and there, I jumped to the side—out of the doorway.
In a hurry, you rounded the corner…and there we were. Face-to-face. My eyes stung as I stared at you. Then I broke that stare and lowered my head. And you took off down the hall.
She didn’t want him to explain. There was no explanation. She saw it with her own eyes.
(Hannah’s voice) When you were halfway down the hall, still walking fast, I saw you look down as if reading something. My note? Yes.
You turned for just a moment to see if I was watching. And for that moment, I was scared. Would you confront me and tell me you were sorry? Yell at me?
The answer? None of the above. You just turned and kept walking, getting closer and closer to the doors leading outside, closer to your escape.
And as I stood there in the hallway—alone—trying to understand what had just happened and why, I realized the truth: I wasn’t worth an explanation — not even a reaction. Not in your eyes, Zach.
(Hannah’s voice) For the rest of you listening, the note was addressed to Zach by name. Maybe he sees it now as a prologue to these tapes. Because in there, I admitted that I was at a point in my life where I really could have used any encouragement anyone might have left me. Encouragement… that he stole.
I bite on my thumb, calming the urge to look over my shoulder at Tony. Does he wonder what I’m listening to? Does he care?
(Hannah’s voice) But I couldn’t take it anymore. You see, Zach’s not the only one with a slow boil. I shouted after him, “Why?”
In the hallway, there were still a few people changing classes. All of them jumped. But only one of them stopped. And he stood there, facing me, cramming my note in his back pocket. I screamed that word over and over again. Tears, finally spilling over, ran down my face. “Why? Why, Zach?”
I heard about that. Hannah flipping out for no apparent reason, embarrassing herself in front of so many people.
But they were wrong. There was a reason.
(Hannah’s voice) So now, let’s get personal. In the spirit of opening up—of full disclosure—let me offer you this: My parents love me. I know they do. But things have not been easy recently. Not for about a year. Not since you-know-what opened outside of town.
I remember that. Hannah’s parents were on the news every night, warning that if the huge shopping center went up, it would put the downtown stores out of business. They said no one would shop there anymore.
(Hannah’s voice) When that happened, my parents became distant. There was suddenly a lot for them to think about. A lot of pressure to make ends meet. I mean, they talked to me, but not like before. When I cut my hair, my mom didn’t even notice.
And as far as I knew—thank you, Zach—no one at school noticed, either.
(Hannah’s voice) In the back of our class, Mrs. Bradley also had a paper bag. It hung with the rest of ours on the spinning bookrack. We could use it—and she encouraged it—for notes about her teaching. Critical or otherwise. She also wanted us to recommend topics for future discussions. So I did just that. I wrote a note to Mrs. Bradley that read: “Suicide. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. Not too seriously, but I have been thinking about it.”
That’s the note. Word for word. And I know it’s word for word because I wrote it dozens of times before delivering it. I’d write it, throw it away, write it, crumple it up, throw it away. But why was I writing it to begin with? I asked myself that question every time I printed the words onto a new sheet of paper. Why was I writing this note? It was a lie. I hadn’t been thinking about it. Not really. Not in detail. The thought would come into my head and I’d push it away. But I pushed it away a lot.
And it was a subject we never discussed in class. But I was sure more people than just me had thought about it, right? So why not discuss it as a group?
Or deep down, maybe there was more. Maybe I wanted someone to figure out who wrote the note and secretly come to my rescue.
Maybe. I don’t know. But I was careful never to give myself away. The haircut. Averting your eyes in the halls. You were careful, but still, there were signs. Little signs. But they were there.
And then, just like that, you snapped back.
Except I did give myself away to you, Zach. You knew I wrote that note in Mrs. Bradley’s bag. You had to. She took it out of her bag and read it the day after I caught you. The day after I had that meltdown in the hall.
A few days before she took the pills, Hannah was herself again. She said hello to everyone in the halls. She looked us in the eyes. It seemed so drastic because it had been months since she had acted like that. Like the real Hannah.
(Hannah’s voice) But you did nothing, Zach. Even after Mrs. Bradley brought it up, you did nothing to reach out. It seemed so drastic, because it was.
So what did I want from the class? Mainly, I wanted to hear what everyone had to say. Their thoughts. Their feelings.
And boy, did they tell me.
One person said it was going to be hard to help without knowing why the person wanted to kill himself. And yes, I refrained from saying, “Or herself. It could be a girl.”
Then others started chiming in.
“If they’re lonely, we could invite them to sit with us at lunch.”
“If it’s grades, we can tutor them.”
“If it’s their home life, maybe we can…I don’t know… get them counseling or something.”
But everything they said—everything!—came tinged with annoyance. Then one of the girls, her name doesn’t matter here, said what everyone else was thinking. “It’s like whoever wrote this note just wants attention. If they were serious, they would have told us who they were.”
God. There was no way for Hannah to open up in that class. I couldn’t believe it.
(Hannah’s voice) In the past, Mrs. Bradley had notes dropped in her bag suggesting group discussions on abortion, family violence, cheating—on boyfriends, girlfriends, on tests. No one insisted on knowing who wrote those topics. But for some reason, they refused to have a discussion on suicide without specifics. For ten minutes or so, Mrs. Bradley rattled off statistics—local statistics—that surprised us all. Because we’re juveniles, she said, as long as the suicide didn’t occur in a public place with witnesses, they probably wouldn’t report it in the news. And no parent wants people to know that their child, the child they raised, took his, or her, own life. So people are oftentimes led to believe it was an accident. The downside being that no one knows what’s really going on with the people in their community. That said, a thorough discussion did not begin in our class. Were they just being nosy, or did they really think that knowing specifics was the best way to help? I’m not sure. A little of both, maybe.
In first period, Mr. Porter’s class, I watched her a lot. If the topic of suicide came up, maybe our eyes would have met and I would have seen it.
(Hannah’s voice) And truthfully, I don’t know what they could have said to sway me either way. Because maybe I was being selfish. Maybe I was just looking for attention. Maybe I just wanted to hear people discuss me and my problems.
Based on what she told me at the party, she would have wanted me to see it. She would have looked directly at me, praying for me to see it.
(Hannah’s voice) Or maybe I wanted someone to point a finger at me and say, “Hannah. Are you thinking about killing yourself? Please don’t do that, Hannah. Please?”
But deep down, the truth was that the only person saying that was me. Deep down, those were my words.
At the end of class, Mrs. Bradley passed out a flyer called The Warning Signs of a Suicidal Individual.
Guess what was right up there in the top five?
“A sudden change in appearance.”
I tugged on the ends of my newly cropped hair.
Huh. Who knew I was so predictable?
Rubbing my chin against my shoulder, I see Tony out of the corner of my eye, still sitting in his booth. His hamburger’s all gone, as are most of his fries. He sits there completely unaware of what I’m going through.
I open the Walkman, pop out tape number four, and flip it over. CASSETTE 4: SIDE B
Zach was reason number seven. At this point, I almost forgot that these were Hannah’s words. It was too… familiar. So much, in fact, that if I close my eyes, I could hear the words in my head.
Except this time, the voice I hear is mine.