Welcome to Banned Books Week, 2019. I’ve made it something of a tradition to participate, and this year is no different! I invite you to join me this year, share your blog posts and check out what others have to say. The link will be open the entire week!
One of the books on the list this year is Th1rteen R3asons Why, by Jay Asher. This is a story that deals with some tough content matter and faced challenges, was banned and restricted in access for addressing teen suicide.
This book made its way onto the list just after it was published, and found its way back onto the list last year, following the release of the Netflix movie based on it. It returned again this year. There are a number of studies that have been done around the release of the Netflix movie and suicide rates among teens. Banned Book Week took a look at the book and some of the challenges that led to its place on the list last year. The challenges this year were along many of the same lines (though finding articles an information about the treatment of this book in 2018 proved to be a challenge, I did find a brief synopsis of the reasons behind the challenges). Additionally the author faced some canceled appearances following accusations of sexual harassment.
A guest poster, who asked to be credited as SB, gave Th1rteen R3asons Why a read this year and wrote about it for us.
The book 13 Reasons Why has become a hot topic of debate lately, and for good reason. It brings up difficult subject matter, in a very real way, that gives many teens something they can relate to. Just because something is difficult or not pretty to talk about, doesn’t mean it should get buried under the rug and ignored. We need books like 13 Reasons Why so people, teens especially, know they are not alone in their experiences. Many people have lived through things similar to the main character, Hannah Baker, such as sexual assault, thoughts of suicide, and slanderous rumors spread by people you thought were your friends. By writing about these things in a Young Adult (YA) book, author Jay Asher has brought these traditionally shameful things to the forefront of conversation.
When we first open 13 Reasons Why, we are introduced to our main two characters: Hannah Baker and Clay Jensen. Hannah has recorded 13 cassette tapes for 13 of her classmates to listen to after she commits suicide. We meet Clay when he gets the package of tapes and follow him throughout the book as he listens to them. The tapes are broken up in the book by Clay’s thoughts and interactions with others, from his parents to his friends and to other people who have already heard the tapes. Along the way, Hannah gives 13 reasons, 13 people, that had a hand in her decision to kill herself. The story is not written lightly, and it does describe some very graphic things like rape.
The moral of the story is that we never know what someone else is dealing with. Even the most popular and seemingly well-adjusted people in our lives have their own internal struggles. Some are dealing with self-confidence issues; others come from a terrible family situation. Many people in Hannah’s world seemed to care about her, if you were watching from the outside, yet so many only cared on the surface. To truly understand another person, we need to move outside ourselves and really let others know we are there for them, no matter what time of day or night it is or what situation they’ve gotten into. Being able to care about someone without passing judgement is not an easy task, but it’s something we should all strive to do more of in our lives.
Another reason this book matters so much is it gives parents a great way to have ongoing discussions with their kids about things that are important to them. Teens are trying so hard to build independence from their parents, and don’t want to be seen as weak or immature when they need to talk to someone. By establishing an open line of communication, teens and parents can build stronger relationships by talking about these hard things. Keep in mind, it’s not just parents that want to talk about these things. Kids and teens can reach out to any trustworthy adult in their lives and get help, whether from a school teacher or counselor, pastor, or a friend’s parent. Parents can start building those same bridges and create a network for their kids and teens to feel safe, supported, and heard.
13 Reasons Why talks about some really tough topics, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. As much as we would all like to pretend sexual assault and suicide doesn’t happen, the reality of life is much more grim than that and we need to start being okay with being more open about it. Important conversations are not always nice to have, and we need to learn to be uncomfortable so we can help raise the future generations to be kinder, to listen more, and to be ready to help others when they can.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a trusted adult, or call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please reach out to a trusted adult or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673.
You never have to be ashamed for something that happened to you, and there are people and resources for you to access the help you need. Please remember that you are loved, you are wanted, and you are important. You have survived all of your worst days so far. You don’t have to face any more hard days alone.