Coping With “Thirteen Reasons Why”

I just finished reading “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. And when I say “just finished” I mean minutes ago. I burned through the last forty pages. Breathless.

I loved the book.

More than just a typical reader would. As a school teacher, I’ve run across kids who needed similar help (not the same, thankfully). I find that school, and teaching, is a mixed bag of learning, friendship, and therapy.

First, let me give you a freeway version of the story (no spoilers, I promise). The novel follows the story of Hannah Baker, a girl who has committed suicide. We hear her words though audiotapes she left for the thirteen people connected with her suicide. Intercut with this is the first person narration of Clay. He’s listening because he’s on the tapes, somewhere. He spends the novel trying to figure out what he did to push a girl over the edge.

Every year (every year, at least since I ran across my first case of a girl cutting) I talk to the students about coping mechanisms. How to unload all that stress and anger that builds up inside. And it does. It’s like shaking up a can of soda. If you don’t know how to release the pressure, it will explode. Trust me, I know.

As I guy, mostly this comes out with hitting things. I’ve dented two car roofs (both mine) and hit the floor so hard it actually shook the house. I don’t think those were the best therapies, but they were better than the alternatives.

Basically, you need a way to get those inner demons out. Hannah (from the novel) had the right idea with poetry. Unfortunately, circumstances conspired against her. Journaling also works. This is essentially what Hannah did with her tapes. It was too late when she worked through her emotions. It’s something you need to start with.

Art is another one. I recall, as a disaffected teen, I attacked a painting with so much force, that I broke the paint brush. (Seeing a trend here?) Once, a poet visited my class (this is fast forwarding to when I was a teacher) and she told the kids something I will never forget. Poems don’t have to be about sadness or joy. Any emotion will do. Anger in fact. She encouraged my class to get angry with their muse.

Essentially, I think I became a writer as a coping mechanism. A way to pour out all the ick that lived inside. I’ve dealt with double dealing friends and some nasty gossip. I simply gave that stuff for my characters to deal with. A bit nasty on my part, but hey, it let me heal. Then I could talk to those people again and not be filled with hate.

The only thing about Jay Asher’s book that bugged me was the parents. Where were they? He had Hannah offer an excuse about the business failing, but I needed to see it more. Why? Because I want to believe that they could have helped. You see I have a little daughter. And when she struggles with her teen years, I hope I can be there for her. I know it’s possible, probably even likely, that suicidal teens don’t confide in their parents. But as a reader (and a father) I would have hoped Asher would have addressed it. Maybe he did. (I haven’t finished with the questions at the end, so maybe he addressed it there.)

I guess I feel like Clay sometimes. As a kid (I know I’m jumping around here) I had a friend who’s father killed himself. One day, at friend’s house, he just broke down, crying. Hell, I had no clue what to do. I was something like thirteen or fourteen. But I listened to him. Especially because the others in our group wouldn’t. He survived the rest of high school without any further incident. So I’m glad I did something. At the very least, I didn’t turn away.

If you ever have someone open up to you, don’t push them away. Listen. Be there for them. Do something that they can’t.

Tim Kane