Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Huge Lesson Learned

Before You Read This Post!


I first want to give warning to this post. I recently read a book that my son was reading in public high school. I found this book very alarming and this post may trigger emotions. Please be aware what your child is learning in school. Speak up and know what is in the curriculum. Much like a one would not send an alcoholic to a bar. Please do not bother reading this post if you may be triggered by sexual trauma, suicide, or any other issue that might make you upset.

I hesitate to post this but I want others to learn from my mistake of not taking a more active role in what my son is learning in public school.

Thirteen Reasons Why
By Jay Asher


A book Review by Ginger Dawn Harman

My son’s education is very important to my husband and I. When I found out that my son was reading this in his 9th grade English class, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to carry on the discussion at home. I am glad that I did! First, I was a bit taken aback from this novel since it includes suicide, rape, alcohol, and no adult mentor-ship. Furthermore, with such heavy topics, I was disappointed that the school did not include me as a parent as this was part in its curriculum. A simple note from the teacher would have been appropriate and the mindful approach that the teacher would take during classroom discussion would have made me as a parent feel a bit better in the decision for the school to use this novel by Jay Asher. 

Jay Asher writes a compelling and voyeuristic novel. It begins with high school student Clay Jensen receiving a package of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker as to why she commented suicide. These tapes were sent to thirteen people (All Students except one adult who will receive it last.) Each student’s behavior is clearly blamed for contributing to Hannah’s reasons for killing herself. 

I understand that this is a very popular novel and is a national bestseller. It can relate to many different audiences. I also know that it is easy to focus on the fictional aspect of a book that isn’t real. Yet, this book does focus on some very real situations that many are aware of. The theme that Jay Asher is attempting is that, “we should all be aware of how our actions may affect others.” I personally like what Rachel said in her very public review of this novel. 

“I work with seriously emotionally disturbed children, teenagers and families. I read this book because some of the teens I was working with were very taken by it. I found it to be a very simplified caricature of a suicidal teen. Having worked with actual people who are actually suicidal, I can tell you, the '13 Reasons' that Hannah killed herself wouldn't have even made the list for most people contemplating suicide. It may sound harsh, but, barring any serious underlying mental illness (to which there was no reference), Hannah would never have killed herself for the reasons stated.

This is such a popular book, and unfortunately it does a real disservice to teens in their understanding of suicide and what to do about it. The idea that a counselor, upon hearing that a student was considering suicide, let her walk away without contacting her parents is unthinkable. Aside from this being unethical (which, granted some therapist's are), no therapist would ever think to act in such away due to the legal ramifications. Even the most incompetent would have immediately gotten Hannah help.

Aside from the above issues, comes the underlying message. What was it? Be nice to people or they might kill themselves? Be on high alert for people who seem sad? Mostly what I got out of it was that you are responsible for others actions. It seems very one sided. In truth, we all do cruel things, we can all think back on times when, for one reason or another we behaved badly. To say that human error deserves such retribution is alarming. Not only that, this idea of post-death vindictiveness is a very attractive idea to teenagers who feel misunderstood and unheard.

I found this book very disturbing and not appropriate for anyone under the age of 18. The details of a teen witnessing a rape while hidden in a closet and the teenage boy who allowed it to happen while standing at the door is inexcusable. Moreover, sending the message that one should allow a sexual moment with a boy because that is what others think about you is sending a message that young women have no voice. I also found the death of the older gentleman from the car accident caused by the cheerleader sends a message that it is ok to not say anything as long as you are not caught.

I do commend Jay Asher for the discussion questions at the back, He provides phone numbers and places to go to if you are considering suicide. Moreover, I appreciate his open discussion about a close relative that committed suicide. However, his audience should be warned that it may cause triggers and this book too can cause its own ramifications. Such as, I will now take a more active approach as to what my son is learning in school.

Sadly, I felt a bit like many of the adults in the book. The last to know. My son finished this book before I was aware that he read it in school.

With so many books on the market, I am sure that there are better books to teach and use for a 9th  grade lesson. 

 I do not recommend this book!


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