How many of you have heard about the butterfly effect? If you haven’t, here’s a simplified explanation: One small change can have large consequences. Or, as Hannah Baker says in Thirteen Reasons Why, “In the end, everything matters.”
The butterfly effect is commonly associated with time travel. But Jay Asher’s young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why is not about that. It doesn’t explore diverging storylines or two significantly different outcomes from a seemingly minor event. It does, however, hint at the question, “What if?” And it is that question—that hint—that haunts the story and its characters.
When Clay Jensen returns home from school, he finds a mysterious package waiting for him. There is no return address or note. He wonders if this is intentional, if this is perhaps from a secret admirer. Clay’s guess is half-right. The box filled with thirteen audio tapes is from Hannah Baker, a girl he’s liked for a long time—a girl that killed herself two weeks before.
Death is inevitable. But when it comes, the question why now? resounds loudly in everyone. When there’s a suicide, the question is cut down to why? Asher weaves two narratives—Clay and Hannah’s—in order to answer that there is no single reason. There is a whole story behind it.
In a beautiful and haunting novel, we see thirteen events, people, times that could have changed one girl’s life. We begin to understand the terrible truth of Hannah’s downward spiral and the pain that knowledge brings to Clay. In the end, we become part of Hannah’s list, forced to step back and truly see what we are, as Hannah puts it, “truly doing” before it’s too late.
Personally, I found myself gripped from the very beginning. Like Clay, I was desperate for the reason for Hannah’s death. I wanted to know how thirteen people could be a part of it. More than that, I wanted to understand how Hannah pins down that number. Asher does wonderful job of keeping the reader in suspense and showing different sides of a highly complex situation. I recommend this novel.
Samantha Bagood is a freelance writer and designer and a student at Appalachian State University. You can find her at www.samanthabagood.com. She is currently writing her first novel.