Okay okay, he obviously didn’t come to Virginia to visit me. I’d like to think so, but I don’t think international bestselling authors travel across the country to visit a girl who literally ran into him on the exhibit floor at the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans. I digress…
Jay’s (we’re on a first name basis now) debut novel was first brought up at a 2012 1Book 1Community committee meeting. In discussing appropriate titles, a few of us mentioned 13 Reasons Why. The book didn’t make the cut for that particular program, but the library’s programming division manager didn’t forget our enthusiasm, and asked him to be the guest author at our annual It’s All Write short story contest. He agreed. Check out his blog to see pictures and read about from his visit.
In addition to his role as keynote speaker, Jay visited a couple high schools, the juvenile detention center, and my library for an after-hours event. (Pictures from the day are posted on our Facebook page.) The after-hours event was awfully cool for a Teen Services Librarian (um, that’s me). He and his peers write the books I recommend on a daily basis. He ‘gets’ the audience. He understand the emotions, the needs, and the interests of the demographic I serve.
Jay mentioned that just that week he had learned of 13 Reasons Why making it onto the ALA’s most frequently challenged list. He wasn’t surprised, but he did what (I assume) he must do frequently – defended his novel (rightfully so), arguing that Hannah’s story helps those suffering from suicidal thoughts. And he knows it helps readers cope with their own suicidal thoughts and depression…because they tell him. In fact, a young girl sitting in our small audience spoke openly about her own insecurities, her past as a bullied youth, and her consideration of suicide as the only way out. Jay hears this at every event he attends. He – through his novel, talks, and events – has saved lives, and he uses testimonies from teens on his website – 13RWProject.
By becoming more comfortable as a country to discuss this topic, it will help.
Suicide is such a taboo topic. As a whole, we don’t discuss depression or mental instability. Or, we use it as an excuse for why horrible actions occur, without opening up the table for discussion. Whether or not Jay knew his book would have such a profound impact on the mental state of so many youth is not known…but as a reader and fan, I am proud to say that he has turned his (and his book’s) fame into a mission of hope. A really cool thing he did with Hannah – and all of the characters in the novel – was keeping her physical appearance a secret. He didn’t so much not tell as simply didn’t include it. That way, Hannah could be any girl. Hannah could be any age, any race, or of any socio-economic status. Granted, the girl on the cover is a thin white girl with straight blond hair…but reading the book, you don’t get that vibe. I appreciate the vagueness.
For all that serious stuff, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the thing I cannot stop LOL-ing about. The first book he ever wrote (I forgot what age he was…grade school? Adult? I forgot, but either way it’s hilarious) was titled Stop Easter Bunny, You Forgot Something! He had aspirations of writing funny books for kids, and while he is a very funny, witty guy, I am glad he listened to his heart when it told him to write a serious novel.
Join me next month when I geek out over the visit of Ransom Riggs, author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Talking Books, and Tahereh Mafi, author of Shatter Me and the recently-released sequel Unravel Me.