Thirteen Reasons Why

Jay Asher


Plot Summary

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah's voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out why.
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah's pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.


  • Voice of Youth Advocates 01/31/2008

Listening to the audio cassettes found propped against his front door, Clay is shocked to hear the voice of Hannah, who killed herself two weeks earlier. On the tapes, Hannah explains why she committed suicide and how the thirteen people named in the tapes contributed to her decision to end her life. Clay learns that he is among those named. High school senior Clay is the novel's main narrator, but the story belongs to Hannah. She describes in an authentic, if overly self-aware, voice how slights and misunderstandings snowballed until she could no longer cope. Hannah's reputation is questioned, her parents are distracted by financial problems, her friends use her, and when she reaches out for help, no one steps forward. Readers will immediately identify with Hannah's experiences in high school society. From Hannah, readers realize the impact of thoughtless actions and comments. As Clay finishes Hannah's story, he becomes more perceptive and sensitive to others. Teens will embrace Asher's debut novel because it is not condescending or preachy. Sex and drugs are plot elements but are not graphically described. Short sentences make it a quick, smooth read, yet there is depth to the novel. This provocative tale touches on universal topics of interest, is genuine in its message, and would be a good choice for high school book discussions and booktalks. The attractive cover art is aimed at female readers. But because the content appeals to both genders, more readers would be drawn to the book if it featured Clay on the cover. --Judy Sasges.

  • School Library Journal, 10/31/2007

Gr 7 Up-High school senior Clay Jensen receives seven audiotapes in the mail. They contain the story of why Hannah Baker, a girl he adored, committed suicide. Each side is devoted to a person in her life and a reason for her death. Clay also has a map of places featured on the recordings. He spends a torturous night listening and wandering, unearthing the depth and causes of Hannah's unhappiness. His torment is private-how did he hurt a girl he treasured from afar-and empathic-her hurts and betrayals tear him apart. Clay's pain is palpable and exquisitely drawn in gripping, casually poetic prose. The complex and soulful characters expose astoundingly rich and singularly teenage inner lives, with emotions as raw as cut wrists. The mood is more serious than somber, and Clay's thoughtful synthesis of Hannah's increasingly explosive narrative saves the novel from melodrama. In fact, Hannah's and Clay's narratives are woven together so seamlessly that the characters appear to converse naturally from opposite sides of mortality. Compounded, the tapes build the plot in increasingly tense increments-Hannah's story is a freight train of despair and suspense that picks up speed as it moves to her final undoing. Like the protagonist in John Green's Looking for Alaska (Dutton, 2005), Hannah is an animate ghost; Clay's bereaved voice bears witness to her tragedy. The episodic structure is nicely suited to reluctant readers, but the breakneck pace and dizzying emotion are the true source of this novel's irresistible readability at all levels.-Johanna Lewis, New York

  • Publishers Weekly, 10/07/2007

This uncommonly polished debut opens on a riveting scenario: 13 teenagers in a small town have each been designated to listen, in secret, to a box of audiotapes recorded by their classmate Hannah and mailed on the very day she commits suicide. “I'm about to tell you the story of my life,” she says. “More specifically, why my life ended. And if you're listening to these tapes, you're one of the reasons why.” Clay, the narrator, receives the tapes a few weeks after the suicide (each listener must send the box to the next, and Hannah has built in a plan to make sure her posthumous directions are followed), and his initial shock turns to horror as he hears the dead girl implicate his friends and acquaintances in various acts of callousness, cruelty or crime. Asher expertly paces the narrative, splicing Hannah's tale with Clay's mounting anxiety and fear. Just what has he done? Readers won't be able to pull themselves away until that question gets answered—no matter that the premise is contrived and the plot details can be implausible. The author gets all the characters right, from the popular girl who wants to insure her status to the boy who rapes an unconscious girl at a party where the liquor flows too freely, and the veneer of authenticity suffices to hide the story's flaws. Asher knows how to entertain an audience; this book will leave readers eager to see what he does next. Ages 13-up.

  • The Guardian 11/22/2014

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is a mysterious, eerie book yet it is both hard hitting and powerful. It is based around Hannah Baker, an intelligent, rather popular and what first appears an ordinary school girl, however recently she committed suicide. She could no longer cope with the cruel, harsh world she lived in and simply gave up on all the disloyal people around her, who constantly disappointed her. Another big character in the book is Clay Jensen, a high school student, who was one of the thirteen reasons why Hannah Baker took her life.

Clay Jensen returns home one day, not long after Hannah's death, to find a package full of cassette tapes that she recorded. All of the tapes include the reason why she died and who caused them. Each person who was the cause of her death was sent the tapes, where they had no choice but to listen to them and pass them on. If anyone failed to pass on the tapes, it was given out to the public and of course anyone who makes an appearance would be a disgrace forever, so Hannah gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Thirteen Reasons Why is truly remarkable because each word fits perfectly and you are constantly wanting to find out who is next on Hannah's list. Also, it is an amazing book, because it covers so many issues young people go through everyday, and it teaches how to cope with these situations. The story is told by Hannah, but there is a mix with Clay's thoughts which gives a balance. At first Clay is portrayed as being confused, however he begins to understand Hannah's view on the world, as well as becoming frustrated because he missed the signs of her suicide.

Furthermore, Jay Asher's book is definitely a story you remember because you start to think about life and different people's attitudes and behaviour. You begin to learn that the actions you do can potentially affect someone's life. I recommend this book to everyone as it truly is amazing! It is beautifully written, with so many emotions and feelings portrayed. Moreover, this book is life changing!

  • Kirkus Reviews  08/31/2007  

Everything affects everything,” declares Hannah Baker, who killed herself two weeks ago. After her death, Clay Jensen—who had a crush on Hannah—finds seven cassette tapes in a brown paper package on his doorstep. Listening to the tapes, Hannah chronicles her downward spiral and the 13 people who led her to make this horrific choice. Evincing the subtle—and not so subtle—cruelties of teen life, from rumors, to reputations, to rape, Hannah explains to her listeners that, “in the end, everything matters.” Most of the novel quite literally takes place in Clay’s head, as he listens to Hannah’s voice pounding in his ears through his headphones, creating a very intimate feel for the reader as Hannah explains herself. Her pain is gut-wrenchingly palpable, and the reader is thrust face-first into a world where everything is related, an intricate yet brutal tapestry of events, people and places. Asher has created an entrancing character study and a riveting look into the psyche of someone who would make this unfortunate choice. A brilliant and mesmerizing debut from a gifted new author. (Fiction. YA)


Responses to Challenges

  • BookLooks Information for parents looking to challenge. Note the reference to BookLooks - this is a resource created and funded by extremist book banners. This is not a credible review source. It is included here to show how small portions of the text are taken out of context and used to manipulate emotions. 
  • 2019 Westwood NJ it was challenged and retained, although moved to the library


  • 2013 – Abraham Lincoln Award winner
  • 2011 -- Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Young Adult Nominee
  • 2011 -- Iowa High School Book Award Winner
  • 2010 – South Carolina Young Adult Book Award winner
  • 2010 -- Delaware Diamonds Award Winner
  • 2010 -- Garden State Teen Book Award Fiction Winner
  • 2010 -- Sequoyah Book Award Winner
  • 2010 -- Virginia Readers Choice Award Nominee
  • 2010 -- Grand Canyon Reader Award
  • 2009 – International Reading Association Young Adults' Choice list
  • 2009 – Writing Conference's Literature Festival
  • 2009 -- Gateway Readers Award
  • 2009 -- Heartland Award - Young Adult
  • 2009 -- Kentucky Bluegrass Award Winner
  • 2008 – Best Books for Young Adults YASLA
  • 2008 -- Florida Teen Reads Winner
  • 2008 – Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers YALSA
  • 2008 – Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults YALSA
  • 2008 – California Book Award silver medal – Young Adult


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