Thirteen Reasons Why: Book Summary & Characters

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

This lesson summarizes 'Thirteen Reasons Why' by Jay Asher, a novel about the suicide of teen Hannah Baker. In addition, we will examine the novel's main characters, all of whom play a part in Hannah's suicide.

Overview

Have you ever realized that seemingly minor actions can sometimes have major consequences? That is the one of the main themes of Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. In this thought-provoking novel, the characters' actions change the course of Hannah Baker's life.

Hannah Baker is a new girl in town, and high school gossip soon establishes her reputation. She is undeservedly labeled a 'slut' and eventually betrayed by almost everyone she knows. She decides to commit suicide, but first she mails cassette tapes explaining the reasons to the people she sees as participating in her difficulties. She also includes a map of significant locations.

'No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Often times, we have no clue,' Hannah says. The reader receives the stories via the character of Clay Jensen, a boy who cares about Hannah. He is devastated by the revelations on Hannah's suicide tapes.

Hannah and Clay

Clay and Hannah Baker are star-crossed lovers. Though they care for each other, they are never able to connect in a permanent or meaningful way. The novel follows Clay as he listens to Hannah's cassette tapes and follows the map to important locations in her journey.

A boy named Tony also receives the tapes and then watches as the others on the list receive them. He is a true friend to Clay, and probably to others who receive the cassettes, offering support as Clay comes to terms with Hannah's final days.

Rumors

Hannah's tapes reveal that many of her acquaintances have betrayed her. The first betrayal occurs when Hannah experiences her first kiss with Justin Foley. She has dreamed about the moment, and her first kiss with Justin seems perfect. Hannah soon learns that Justin is not the nice guy she thought he was. He is the likely source of false rumors around school that label her a slut. Later, Hannah reveals that Justin did not intervene when Bryce Walker raped a girl at a party.

Another boy, Alex Standall, places Hannah's name on a survey, earning her the moniker of 'Best Ass in the Freshman Class.' This event, along with the false rumors that Justin Foley has started about Hannah being promiscuous have a devastating effect on Hannah's social life. The rumors and the title lead to Hannah experiencing unwanted sexual attention from others.

The tapes reveal that Hannah believes Tyler Down is a voyeur, or 'Peeping Tom,' after someone peers into her bedroom window and snaps a photograph. Hannah asks Courtney Crimson to help her catch the stalker, but Hannah soon comes to view Courtney not as a true friend but as a girl who wants to collect worshippers.

After the 'Peeping Tom' incident, Courtney tells her friends that Hannah keeps a sex toy collection in her bedroom. This tale is not true, but it adds more fuel to the rumor that Hannah is sexually promiscuous.

Betrayal

Ms. Antilly, one of the school guidance counselors, introduces Hannah and Jessica Davis . Both are new girls at school, but after a period of friendship, Jessica comes to believe Hannah has betrayed her. Later, Jessica is drunk and unconscious at a party when she is raped by Bryce Walker.

Hannah also names Marcus Cooley in the tapes. He and Hannah meet on Valentine's Day at Rosie's Diner. Marcus has teasingly invited Hannah to the diner, and she agrees. It seems all in fun, and Marcus almost decides not to go. He does meet Hannah at Rosie's, though, and he paws at her in a booth against her will. When he receives the tapes, Marcus refuses to accept a part in Hannah's suicide, instead focusing on the role Tyler Down may have played.

Another friend who lets Hannah down is Ryan Shaver. Shaver is the editor of a publication that focuses on objects found around campus. Hannah meets Ryan at a poetry gathering at the library. After she shares one of her poems with him, Ryan betrays her by publishing her poem, claiming that he found it.

Jenny Kurtz gives Hannah a ride home from a party. Her car strikes and breaks a stop sign, though she shrugs off any responsibility for seeing that something is done to repair it. Later, there is a car accident at the site, but the missing stop sign may not have been the cause. Hannah is disillusioned by this event and views the incident as more evidence of her friends' uncaring natures.

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