Uncovering the Controversy of Thirteen Reasons Why with GVRL

4 min read

| By Traci Cothran |

There’s been a bit of controversy about this Netflix series, based on the teen novel of the same name, Thirteen Reasons Why.  The novel is about the suicide of a teen girl, and concerns have been expressed about the content as well as the visual depiction of the suicide on screen.  Parents should decide for themselves what is best for their children, and Gale’s GVRL collection (from Novels for Students, 51) provides information about this novel that is useful in making that determination.

Our plot summary begins:

Clay Jensen, a quiet high-school student, arrives home from school one day to find a shoe-box-sized package from an anonymous person sitting on his doorstep. Opening it, he discovers that it contains seven cassette tapes, each with a dark blue number painted in the upper-right-hand corner. He heads to the garage to listen to the tapes on an old machine his father has stashed away.

What Clay learns from Cassette 1: Side A is that the tapes have been recorded by the late Hannah Baker, a classmate who recently committed suicide by taking a handful of pills. Clay also learns that the entire set has been mailed to a series of classmates with very specific instructions: listen to all the tapes, visit all the sites on the accompanying map, and then pass the entire package along to the next person in line. The reason for this project is also made clear: Hannah wants to explain to twelve people how they played a role in her death, by giving thirteen reasons explaining why she took her life.

The Themes, Style, Historical Context, Critical Overview, and Criticisms compile our coverage of this title, along with suggestions for What Do I Read Next? We also include an interview with the author, Jay Asher, with C.J. Bott (and author Julie Peters) from Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), Vol. 32, No. 5, December 2009, pp. 366-69 [excerpted].  In it, they touch on the controversy surrounding the book (before the Netflix series was released):

Bott: Given the subject, I would expect there to be attacks made on your books. Jay, has your book had any threats of censorship?

Asher: Attacks pop up occasionally, and I do understand why people are uncomfortable with the subject matter. But that’s exactly why books like mine and Julie’s are so important. Our society does a horrible job of discussing things that are uncomfortable. But if we sweep those issues under the rug, someone dealing with those emotions won’t know where to turn for help. Or they’ll be afraid to ask for help. Usually, censors are simply afraid of what they “think” teens will get out of the book. Their thought process, of course, never leads them to find out what teens are actually getting out of the book. I’ve had many teens tell me they wouldn’t be alive had they not read my book. Thank God no one stepped between them and Hannah’s story.

Certainly, young adult literature today doesn’t shy away from tough topics so we can have difficult but necessary conversations, and it’s wonderful that youth can find books about people like them and their issues so they don’t feel alone. (Check out http://weneeddiversebooks.org/ for great recommendations.)  So is Thirteen Reasons Why presented appropriately?  You’ll have to answer that for yourself, and our Gale resources are here to provide information about the novel that will help.

Did You Know? Gale’s Novels for Students series now has more than 55 volumes, featuring 12-15 novels per volume. You’ll also find eBooks in the Poetry for Students, Short Stories for Students, and Drama for Students lines. Learn more about Gale eBooks on GVRL >>


Traci J. Cothran

About the Author

Traci Cothran is a manager in Gale’s Database Program and a history buff, so she can often be found watching videos from the early 1900s in Gale’s World History In Context.  

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