13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher was published by the Penguin Group in 2007. Clay Jensen is a regular high school student who is simply trying to navigate his way through high school. His regular life soon changed when he received a box of random tapes sitting on his door step that were from Hannah Baker. The weird thing about him receiving the tapes was that Hannah was dead. Clay was essentially freaked out by the odd gift but because of curiosity, he felt as if he had to listen. The first tape immediately lets the listeners know that if they are in possession of the tapes, they are one of the reasons why she committed suicide. Although Hannah and Clay never really spent as much time as he thought that they should have spent together, he didn’t believe that he was one of the reasons why Hannah would ultimately kill herself. As he listens to the tapes, Hannah gives a full uncensored account of the events that happened to her and she vows to make sure that the truth will come out. The tapes allow Clay to look into Hannah’s life and, in a weird way, get to know who she really was as a person. This book serves as a eulogy to Hannah’s life and also allows everyone that was involved to take a closer look at how they treat each other. The themes and motifs in this book are bullying, teen suicide, self-reflection, rape, and rumors.
The text Interpreting Young Adult Literature: Literary Theory in the Secondary Classroom by John Noel More, discusses several literary theories that can be applied to this novel. Wolfgang Iser’s feminist theory “Reading the Gaps” allows the reader to “actively internalize the text so that the reader’s view of the work becomes in part a view of himself: the work has been structured into the reader and is no longer a merely objective fact” (121). Iser believes that a text is not written in its entirety and it will always have gaps. While using the gap theory, readers are given the opportunity to fill in those spaces by using their imaginations and answering questions that they might have about the text (121). The gap theory can be applied to a major theme in the story which is bullying. In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah is new to her neighborhood and has started to have a crush on a guy named Justin. She describes how she would like her first kiss experience to go versus how it actually went. After she has her first kiss she explains on the tape how the rumor that Justin started took on a life of its own. The text states “No. A rumor based on a kiss ruined a memory that I hoped would be special. A rumor based on a kiss started a reputation that other people believed in and reacted to. And sometimes, a rumor based on a kiss has a snow ball effect” (31). As Clay listens to the tape, he remembers Justin being huddled up with a group of his friends laughing at Hannah as she walked by. The first thing that a reader would possibly question is why didn’t Hannah stick up for herself? Why did she allow Justin to continue to spread the rumor? Was she scared to address him because she felt that no one would believe her or did she think that it would simply go away? These questions could feel the “gap” for this particular situation within the story. Another example from the text involves a character named Jessica. Hannah and Jessica were placed on a list to determine who looked the best. In a confrontation between the two, Jessica attacks Hannah because she thinks that she likes the guy she is interested in. Hannah ends up telling Jessica she was interested in the guy when she knew that she wasn’t just so she would leave her alone. The reader might ask why did Hannah take the blame for something she knew was not true? Although the list was a joke, Hannah and Jessica could have possibly teamed up to stand up against the individual who put the list out. The author could have used this “gap” to show girl power amongst the two and gave Hannah a chance to redeem herself.
13 Reasons Why gives the opportunity for the reader to look at the point of view of the victim and also those who stand by and watch others get bullied. This text will allow readers to examine who they are and critically think about how do they influence and indirectly influence the bullying of others.