The book starts with Clay at a post office mailing a box before school. Then it rewinds to a day earlier, when Clay received the box and learned what it contains: cassette tapes. Clay doesn’t know what they are or who sent them as he puts the first one into the old cassette player in his garage to listen. Then the voice of his longtime crush, Hannah Baker, who killed herself a couple of weeks earlier, fills his ears, and she explains that the tapes are the 13 reasons why (or more specifically, the people responsible for why) she killed herself. She explains that if you receive the tapes, you are one of those people. Clay panics, hearing her voice, but also wonders what he ever did to her to warrant his having the tapes.
The rules are that he must listen to the tapes, and, if he feels inclined, follow a map — that he found in his locker a few weeks before — around town to specific locations that Hannah marked. When he is done listening to the tapes, he must mail them to the next person Hannah names. If he doesn’t, another copy of the tapes will be revealed, so everyone will know what these 13 people did (or didn’t do), not just the offenders.
Clay begins his walk around town, listening to Hannah’s voice in his ears while experiencing a wide range of emotions including sorrow, disgust, anger and sadness.
The subject matter is obviously dark, and while there were parts that made me so mad at Hannah, the overall story and way this book was written really grabbed me and opened my eyes to what a suicidal person is going through — and how it affects those left behind.
Rated: High (for young adults). It would get a moderate if it were aimed at adult readers, but since it is aimed at teenagers, its subject matter and content make it a “high” for young readers. It has some mild language, some moderate sexual references, and teenage drinking and teenage sex, as well as the topics of suicide and rape.