Jay Asher Discusses Thirteen Reasons Why | 50 States Against Bullying
The Children’s Book Review | October 23, 2014
In collaboration with Penguin Young Readers Group, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jay Asher has launched the “50 States Against Bullying” tour. The tour, which is the largest-scale tour in Penguin Young Readers Group’s history, launched in synch with National Anti-Bullying Awareness month (October) and will run through early spring 2015.
Asher will visit one school in each of the 50 states, (plus Washington, DC), discussing his book THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and the important and timely issue of bullying. The book has spent more than 163 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, has been published in 35 countries, has more than 2.1 million copies in print in the United States alone, and has become an anti-bullying anthem.
When The Children’s Book Review received the opportunity to interview Asher, it made sense to us to have another brilliant children’s book author, Trudy Ludwig (who has written multiple books for younger students on the theme of bullying), be the one to dig deeper into Asher’s amazing novel and personal perspective. Ludwig’s questions are thoughtful and lead to insightful responses on bullying, teen suicide and how to create kinder and more caring communities.
Jay Asher Interview with Trudy Ludwig
Jay Asher: I have a close relative who attempted suicide when she was a junior in high school, which is the same age as the girl in the book. Over the years, she and I were able to discuss how she got to that point of thinking ending her life was the only way out of her pain. I can say that’s where my understanding of the issue came from, but I never thought I’d write a story about it. For many years, I also had the idea of structuring a book like an audiotour, with dual simultaneous narrators (the recorded voice, and another person’s thoughts as they listen to the recorded voice). One day, both of those ideas came together and I knew it was a unique way to explore this serious issue.
TL: Your novel explores two serious topics: bullying and teen suicide. Experts report that not all bullying leads to teen suicide, but bullying can be one of multiple underlying contributing factors. What do you hope your readers (adults and teens) take away from your story concerning these two important issues?
JA: The main thing I wanted to say, and thankfully it’s what most people say they get out of the book, is simply an acknowledgement that we do affect each other in ways we can’t predict. When we do things, good or bad, we have no way to know exactly how it’ll affect someone because we don’t know what else that person has been through. Plus, everyone has different levels of what they can handle. I also wanted readers to come to their own understandings of what more Hannah could have done to help herself. And I have heard from so many teens dealing with painful experiences, and they say Hannah’s story encouraged them to reach out for help.
TL: Why do you think fiction can be such an effective, helpful tool in fostering empathy and perspective in readers—both old and young?
JA: Fiction is a safe way to explore different perspectives. It can also be a way to look at ourselves without getting immediately defensive. This happens because we’re not talking about real people, or ourselves. These people don’t exist, and their actions didn’t really happen, so we feel less afraid to explore who they are and the dynamics of what they did. Those discussions, whether we have them with others or simply ourselves, naturally roll into discussions of our own lives.
TL: What are some of the most powerful / memorable responses you’ve personally received from your 13 Reasons Why readers?
JA: Everyone reads this story in a way that’s colored by their own experiences. I’ve heard from hurting teens who said it inspired them to ask for help because they saw that getting help was up to them, and that they are worth that help. I’ve heard from parents and best friends of people who’ve committed suicide, and they’ve said it helped them grieve. After a suicide, there are so many questions that are so hard to answer (if they can be answered). When you’re close to someone and care about them, you assume you know everything that’s going on. But that’s impossible, because we only know as much as someone is willing to let us know.
TL: Can you give a few specific examples showing how teens and adults in schools are using 13 Reasons Why to create kinder/more caring communities?
JA: One book club that read the book converted a room in their school into a Safe Room, a place where students can go to get out of the halls and decompress, no questions asked. That was a student’s idea, and the school ran with it. Many teachers have told me they implemented the personalized paperbags that are featured in one chapter of my book, which lets people leave anonymous positive notes for other students. It’s been wonderful to see so many people use a piece of fiction to inspire creative ideas like these. You never know what little idea can help, so you might as well try!
About Jay Asher
Jay Asher is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, the YA novel that has taken this country by storm. Published in 2007, it has become an anti-bullying anthem used in schools across the country to combat this incredibly serious issue. Teens around the world have claimed, “This book changed my life.” Starting this school year, Jay will be touring the entire country on his “50 States Against Bullying” campaign, in which he’ll visit one school in each state to address the issue of bullying. Jay lives in California with his wife and son. His favorite part of being an author is speaking with his readers at schools and libraries across the country.
For more information, visit the campaign’s website, www.50StatesAgainstBullying.com. The site boasts many features that enable people to follow Jay’s tour virtually, including: a map showcasing Asher’s tour stops; resources for teachers; a link to the author’s blog; and photos and videos of Asher and the teens he encounters on his tour.
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself-a truth he never wanted to face.
Thirteen Reasons Why is the gripping, addictive international bestseller that has changed lives the world over. It’s an unrelenting modern classic.
Ages 12 and up | Publisher: Razorbill | June 14, 2011 (Reprint) | ISBN-13: 978-1595141880
About Trudy Ludwig
Trudy Ludwig is the author of many books for children, including My Secret Bully and Confessions of a Former Bully. An active member of the International Bullying Prevention Association, she is a sought-after speaker who collaborates frequently with organizations like Committee for Children, Hands & Words Are Not For Hurting Project, and Putting Family First. Trudy has been profiled on national television, radio, and in newsprint, and her books have received the Mom’s Choice Gold Award, the CCBC’s “Best of the Best” award, and have been recognized as NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Books for Young People.
After reading this interview with Jay Asher about “Thirteen Reasons Why,” we hope you’ll join the conversation on Twitter about bullying, using the hashtags, #ReasonsWhyYouMatter and #50StatesAgainstBullying. You can also discover more amazing books about bullying for young readers and teens by delving into our articles and book reviews tagged with Bullying Books, Jay Asher, and Trudy Ludwig.