Once upon a time, I could read a book in no time flat. Give me two or three days and I would have it read it cover-to-cover. Then I would be on to the next adventure awaiting me within the confines of whatever book I had picked up at Barnes and Noble, the local library, my school library or the local Vintage Stock for those of you familiar with Northwest Arkansas.
Once upon a time, I was a high school student.
Then the “college years” and work got in the way and over the last four years I’ve be lucky to finish a book in a minimum of two weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I still read. My four years at Arkansas State opened a lot of doors to what I was willing to read, especially in the world of non-fiction.
When I get hold of a particularly good book, I take it with me everywhere. That happens about two or three times a year.
. This has been a unique week. I graduate from college on Saturday. I finished all of my class obligations on Monday. That left me with four days to kill before I accept my diploma. Four days to catch up on some reading.
Enter “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher and a return to my high school reading habits.
I could have been doing a lot over the last two days. I could have started the task of packing up my dorm room for the return trip home. I could have done some Internet job searching to make the next couple of months a little easier to get through. But I didn’t.
Apart from a few hours spent with friends and sampling other readings, my nose was firmly planted in Asher’s first novel. In just over 24 hours, I had “Thirteen Reasons Why” finished. This was aided by having stayed up till about 4 a.m. to read almost 3/4’s of the book.
For roughly 24 hours, Asher transported me back to a time in my life where I put too much stock in pretty much everything my 14 to 18-year-old self cared about (except for the first season of “Heroes.”) and when my reading selection consisted mostly of whichever “Star Wars” book I hadn’t read yet.
The book also reminded me of a not-so memorable time. A four-year period from 2000 to 2005 where school was the last place I wanted to be and “friend” was a term I reserved for the few people I could get along with at church. This was a time when I got into fights at school and was suspended at least once.
I was unhappy. I let the tiniest things, including jokes about my home-state of Texas, get to me and more than once I wound up in the principle’s office and at least once suspended from school.
My schooling experience finally got better in 8th grade when I met my core “best friends” who are still apart of my life today, two of whom are even coming to my graduation this weekend.
But not every high school experience, not even mine, is a smooth road. “Thirteen Reasons Why” was a vivid reminder that while we might consider the four years that make up high school the “best” years of our lives, they can also be the cruelest.
Every page of Asher’s first book reminded me how precarious the social structure of high school was or had the potential to be. I never experienced anything quite resembling the events Hannah Baker or Clay Jensen went through in the stories recounted in “Thirteen Reasons Why,” and I’m beyond thankful for that. However, it’s not hard to believe the possibility that some at my school did, without the outcome found in the book.
How did Asher keep me reading his book almost non-stop for 24 hours?
He did it by effortlessly putting me in the shoes of two different narrators. One speaking to the other from the past and the other learning how he fit into her tragic story that includes 12 other people; one for each side of a tape.
Push and pull. Give and take. That’s how functional relationships work and that’s how Asher is able to make the tale of a girl telling the story of how she decided to commit suicide through seven tapes while the boy who all but loved her forces himself to listen so compelling.
Having two narrators giving you two sides of the same story at the same time is a feat, but it’s what make the book so engaging.
How do two people interpret the same events? It all comes down to what information each person has and what they do with it. How many conflicts could be avoided in high school, even college, if all parties involved just stopped to try to comprehend where the other was coming from?
That’s how the reader spends most of the book, figuring out where Clay fits in a story involving at least 13 other people,
That’s how we spend the majority of our high school and even our college years. Just trying to find out where and with who, we belong.
Of all of the messages or lessons that are conveyed in “13 Reasons Why,” the most important, for me anyway, is that all of our actions matter. While in the big cosmic picture, that might not mean anything, it does during those formative years in high school and even college.
Every person we interact with, no matter how briefly or extensively, is going through their own trials. We don’t and can’t possibly have all of the clues needed to understand what those are, but how we treat people in those moments can have an unfathomable impact on how it plays out.
It’s books like “Thirteen Reasons Why” I wish I had read more of in grade school. It wouldn’t have solved any of my problems, but it would have made getting through the gauntlet know as high school a little more bearable.