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Teen Clay Jenson is still reeling from his friend, Hannah's suicide when he receives thirteen tapes Hannah made before she died. The messages are going to be mailed to all thirteen people and each will have to listen to the part he or she had in Hannah's final, devastating decision. Without giving away the plot, Clay agonizes, as he begins to listen to the tapes in the required sequence, about what responsibility he holds for Hannah's untimely demise. This book raises so many questions but also should be mandatory reading for high school students.
Hannah's haunting words implicate those who started vicious rumors that perpetuated a stereotypical attitude toward Hannah in her final days. Just as potently are the accounts of events in which people traumatized her life based on those rumors or failed to speak in circumstances, words that might have healed rather than added to the expanded versions of the rumors. One person is given credit for being honest, straight and faithful in the face of so much petty and overwhelming meanness and lack of sensitivity. The culpability, for the most part, is leveled at every other person and gradually increases the reader's sense of dread at what is obviously going to turn into a horrific disaster.
Jay Asher is a very talented writer who has chosen audiotapes as his venue for such a dire issue. While there is not much of a counter-balancing point of view as to how Hannah was processing this awful last year of her life, the message within each account and its implications are potent, poignant material that could provide much grist for group discussions that just might save one (or many more, probably) more young adult life.
Excellent, timeless, plot-driven and wise novel, Jay Asher! Read it and think a great deal before you speak to a teen who appears to be just “fine.”
Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on July 1, 2009