Here & Now Guest:
- Jay Asher, author of "Thirteen Reasons Why"
Jay Asher's teen novel, "Thirteen Reasons Why,"has become a word of mouth success story. Published in 2007, the teen suicide novel took six months to reach the best seller list, and stayed there for 65 straight weeks.
At book signings and in emails from fans, Asher says that teens have told him that they were suicidal when they picked up the book, but identified with the main character, and wanted her to live. On Asher's website, young readers say it made them realize how a cruel comment can have a lasting impact on others.
"Thirteen Reasons Why" delves into how rumors and innuendo in high school, about who's doing what with whom, can have disastrous consequences. That's what happened to the protagonist, Hannah Baker, he took her own life after being harassed by others students.
Before she died, Hannah recorded the 13 reasons why she decided to commit suicide, and sent the box of tapes to her would-be boyfriend, Clay, so he could forward it onto others.
"I'm about to tell you why my life ended," she says, "and if you're listening to these tapes you're one of the reasons why."
The book comes out in paperback today.
Note: this segment was first broadcast in 2009
Book Excerpt: "Thirteen Reasons Why"
I rub two fingers, hard, over my left eyebrow. The throbbing has become intense. “It doesn’t matter,” I say.
The clerk takes the package. The same shoebox that sat on my porch less than twenty-four hours ago; rewrapped in a brown paper bag, sealed with clear packing tape, exactly as I had received it. But now addressed with a new name. The next name on Hannah Baker’s list.
“Baker’s dozen,” I mumble. Then I feel disgusted for even noticing it.
I shake my head. “How much is it?”
She places the box on a rubber pad, then punches a sequence on her keypad. I set my cup of gas-station coffee on the counter and glance at the screen. I pull a few bills from my wallet, dig some coins out of my pocket, and place my money on the counter.
“I don’t think the coffee’s kicked in yet,” she says. “You’re missing a dollar.”
I hand over the extra dollar, then rub the sleep from my eyes. The coffee’s lukewarm when I take a sip, making it harder to gulp down. But I need to wake up somehow. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s best to get through the day half asleep. Maybe that’s the only way to get through today.
“It should arrive at this address tomorrow,” she says.
“Maybe the day after tomorrow.” Then she drops the box into a cart behind her. I should have waited till after school. I should have given Jenny one final day of peace. Though she doesn’t deserve it. When she gets home tomorrow, or the next day, she’ll find a package on her doorstep. Or if her mom or dad or someone else gets there first, maybe she’ll find it on her bed. And she’ll be excited. I was excited. A package with no return address? Did they forget, or was it intentional? Maybe from a secret admirer?
“Do you want your receipt?” the clerk asks.
I shake my head.
A small printer clicks one out anyway. I watch her tear the slip across the serrated plastic and drop it into a wastebasket.
There’s only one post office in town. I wonder if the same clerk helped the other people on the list, those who got this package before me. Did they keep their receipts as sick souvenirs?
Tuck them in their underwear drawers? Pin them up on corkboards?
I almost ask for my receipt back. I almost say, “I’m sorry, can I have it after all?” As a reminder. But if I wanted a reminder, I could’ve made copies of the tapes or saved the map.
But I never want to hear those tapes again, though her voice will never leave my head. And the houses, the streets, and the high school will always be there to remind me.
It’s out of my control now. The package is on its way. I leave the post office without the receipt. Deep behind my left eyebrow, my head is still pounding. Every swallow tastes sour, and the closer I get to school, the closer I come to collapsing.
I want to collapse. I want to fall on the sidewalk right there and drag myself into the ivy. Because just beyond the
ivy the sidewalk curves, following the outside of the school parking lot. It cuts through the front lawn and into the main
building. It leads through the front doors and turns into a hallway, which meanders between rows of lockers and classrooms on both sides, finally entering the always-open door to first period.
At the front of the room, facing the students, will be the desk of Mr. Porter. He’ll be the last to receive a package with
no return address. And in the middle of the room, one desk to the left, will be the desk of Hannah Baker.
one hour after school
A shoebox-sized package is propped against the front door at an angle. Our front door has a tiny slot to shove mail
through, but anything thicker than a bar of soap gets left outside. A hurried scribble on the wrapping addresses the
package to Clay Jensen, so I pick it up and head inside.
I take the package into the kitchen and set it on the counter. I slide open the junk drawer and pull out a pair of scissors.
Then I run a scissor blade around the package and lift off its top. Inside the shoebox is a rolled-up tube of bubblewrap.
I unroll that and discover seven loose audiotapes. Each tape has a dark blue number painted in the upper right-hand corner, possibly with nail polish. Each side has its own number. One and two on the first tape, three and four on the next, five and six, and so on. The last tape has a thirteen on one side, but nothing on the back. Who would send me a shoebox full of audiotapes?
No one listens to tapes anymore. Do I even have a way to play them?
The garage! The stereo on the workbench. My dad bought it at a yard sale for almost nothing. It’s old, so he doesn’t care if it gets coated with sawdust or splattered with paint. And best of all, it plays tapes.
I drag a stool in front of the workbench, drop my backpack to the floor, then sit down. I press Eject on the player. A plastic door eases open and I slide in the first tape.
Copyright © 2010 Jay Asher
This segment aired on June 14, 2011.
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