I made the mistake of starting a new audiobook at bedtime. I thought I would probably fall asleep in the middle of it, but I couldn’t stop listening. I think TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY is one of those books that actually has a bigger impact in audio format. The story has two narrators: Clay Jensen, a high school senior who finds an anonymous package on his doorstep, addressed to him and containing 7 audio cassette tapes with each side marked 1-13 (the 14th side is unmarked); and Hannah Baker, the voice on the tapes, explaining the thirteen events/names/reasons why she committed suicide. “If you’re listening to this, then you’re on the list.” Besides the tapes, Clay has also received a map of the town with thirteen stars on it, marking the points of interest in Hannah’s story. As he listens to the tapes, he takes the tour on the map, retracing Hannah’s story and trying desperately to figure out why he’s on the list. As the story unfolds from Hannah’s point of view, Clay’s memories add his own version of events.
The audiobook is performed by two readers, male and female, and I felt like I was both inside Clay’s mind and listening to Hannah’s tapes. (The fact that I was listening through headphones probably emphasized the sensation even more.) I can count on one hand the number of books that have made me cry and still have plenty of fingers left over, but I actually wept when Clay reached his place in the story. The whole time I knew that Hannah would die — that she was already dead, but I found myself willing it not to be so. Like Clay, I was mentally pleading with Hannah to turn away from the path she was headed down, knowing it was already too late. And, like Clay, I couldn’t stop listening. I had to know the entire story — all thirteen reasons why. The truth is there are actually fourteen reasons why. Hannah is the fourteenth. She makes bad choices of her own along the way, too, that compound the problem — actions and inactions. She doesn’t actually come out and say it, but I think she realizes it at the end.
It’s a heart-wrenching, emotionally draining journey, but it doesn’t end with Hannah’s death. Clay doesn’t settle for that. He moves on with a new understanding and a new purpose, and you get the sense that maybe something good might come from this tragedy. You’ll understand when you’ve read/listened to it yourself.