Thursday, July 16, 2009

Six reasons why you should read Thirteen Reasons Why

We're so lucky to have author Jay Asher (who hails from my native Central Coast, CA) as a guest blogger today! Jay's thought-provoking YA novel Thirteen Reasons Why deals with teen suicide from the perspective of Clay, a bereaved, bewildered friend -- and one of the thirteen reasons given by Hannah as contributing to her devastating decision.
From chain bookseller to indie bookseller and librarian to author, you've been working with books for a long time. Can you trace your love of books from a particular age or moment in your life? What's next? (More novels, we hope!)
Some of my very earliest memories are of being driven to the library, which was absolutely like taking a field trip to heaven. But in high school, I don't remember reading much. At least, not for fun. It wasn't until I took a college course called Children's Lit. Appreciation that I was reintroduced to children's books...and began writing them. Now I'm doing what I love as a career. (Which means, yes, there are more books to come!)

Fellow guest blogger Alisa Libby works at a library for her "day job," and found it a valuable resource for her historical fiction novels. Did the way you interacted with your library change when you were working there and writing?
I don't work at a library anymore. I left last October to be a full-time writer, but only because something had to give. My favorite part of being an author is getting to meet readers face-to-face at school visits, and I began accepting many more speaking gigs than I had vacation hours. But I do miss the daily interactions with librarians, which I considered extremely valuable research. I especially loved talking with them about what teens were saying about certain books. A lot of books which everyone thought would be a hit never clicked with their intended audience and it was fascinating to hear why.

If you could discover a box of tapes addressed to you from anyone, living or dead, who would you want that person to be?
Awesome question! As long as they weren't blaming me for their suicide, there are a lot of people I could name. Jesus, I suppose. If I hired a translator, I'm sure I could turn it into a bestseller. But I don't think audiotapes were invented back then, so to choose from a more modern time, maybe my grandfathers. Both of them. They were great storytellers.

What advice would you offer your readers who struggle with depression, the compulsion to self-harm, and/or suicidal thoughts?
Talk to someone. Unfortunately, our society is so uncomfortable discussing these issues, it makes it that much harder for people experiencing these problems to reach out. But the best way to get help is to ask for it. One of Hannah's downfalls was her inability to be totally open about her feelings. She dropped hints or left clues, but there were people around her who would've helped had they known how serious things were. Of course, sometimes the very adults teens should be able to go to for help are a part of the problem. In those case, there are hotlines to call. Hotlines are made up of strangers who want nothing more than to help whoever is on the other end of the line.
A note from the editor/blogger: SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) offers a free pamphlet to help parents and children and teens/preteens discuss difficult topics like depression, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm. You can also follow them on Twitter if you're technologically inclined. Some national helpline numbers to keep handy:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Rape, Incest, and Abuse National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-HOPE
National Mental Health Association Info Line 1-800-969-NMHA (6642)
National Clearinghouse on Family Support and Children's Mental Health 1-800-628-1696
One of my favorite organizations is To Write Love on Her Arms, which does outreach and education about depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation at events like Warped Tour and other concerts.
Are there any books available for teens right now that you wish had been published when you were a teenager?
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. It's my all-time favorite book, and I think I would've loved it just as much when I was a teen. But most of the books I currently love, I don't know how I would've reacted to them when I was in high school...including my own book!

And a question I expect you won't answer: is Hannah really dead? (Do you get asked that one a lot?)
She is gone, yes. I do occasionally get asked that question because there are lines within the text which leave open the slight possibility that she might not be dead. The characters in the book, however, never question that she's not coming back. So it was just a case of me pulling out every literary tool to keep the readers turning the pages!
Thanks to Jay for his answers -- and more importantly, for his willingness to tackle a very serious subject in a YA novel! Teen depression and suicidal ideation are topics which need much more attention than they currently receive, and this powerful book very effectively draws attention to them.

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