I seem to be reading a lot of teen books about suicide lately. Which doesn’t make me worry about myself but more about teenagers these days. Are you guys okay? Please be good to yourselves and each other. As much as I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve been reading, it has nothing to do with the suicide part. I’m in no way an expert on teen suicide rates or anything, but the arts tend to reflect events in society so…yeah. I’ll move on from this now before I get myself into trouble.
A lot of books involving teen suicide usually try to shed a light on mental illness and how we need to better handle it in our society. Obviously I don’t know if Jay Asher wrote the character of Hannah Baker thinking she was suffering from mental illness (depression, anxiety, what have you), he may have, but the way it comes across in the books is that Hannah is really just the victim of people being shitty, which they often are.
This opens the book up to make a much broader statement. It’s not just saying we need to pay more attention to mental illness and the effects it can have on people, it also says, “Hey, think about how your words or actions could affect another person.” A lesson many of us were probably taught in kindergarten. In other words, if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.
Several times throughout reading the book, I did worry it was leaning a bit too strongly on the blame game element. Hannah sends out these tapes to people she claims are the “reasons” she killed herself. Which is a totally acceptable way to feel, but it also set Hannah up to be a hypocrite. She was pushed down a bad road because people said or did terrible things to her, and now she is forcing these other people to listen to horrible things that might seriously mess them up and send them down a bad road, and the cycle continues. It’s a very complex mess full of he-said/she-saids, pointed fingers, and hurt feelings.
And that’s just how life is sometimes. But in the end, Hannah does absolve herself a bit in my eyes. She acknowledges that the people she is talking about on the tapes aren’t really to blame. But her message is one worth bearing in mind. Words have power. And even if you don’t mean any harm when you say them, other people might interpret them and twist them to mean something entirely different. Now we can’t consider every single possible outcome before we say something, but I think Thirteen Reasons Why is at least trying to remind us to try, and is a reminder that sticks and stones may break bones, but words can hurt forever. (I totally stole that from Scrubs, BTW.)