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Letters About Literature National Winners 2012

National Winner, Level 3: Amber-Nicole Watty, Grantville, GA

Dear Jay Asher,

There may be thirteen sides to every story, but for me there have always only been eight. Starting as far back as the third grade, it felt as if my life was sliding down a long, slippery slope that appeared from out of nowhere. From the second I began to read Hannah's tragic story, it felt as if I was actually there listening to the cassette tapes alongside her friend Clay. Right from the first tape, it made me do a double-take and look at myself honestly. Your book, Thirteen Reasons Why is one of the reasons why I am still alive today.

You may be thinking that what I've told you is a little extreme, a lie even. No, it's absolutely true. As Hannah joked one: "Why would a dead girl lie?" And she was right. Why would anyone in her position lie about anything she was about to confess? Just as Hannah Baker contemplated suicide, so have I, and in such a strangely similar way at that. It actually became a recurring question in my life. Unlike her, however, I had your book and that has made all the difference.

Every few years, it seems I become the "new kid" again at school. Hannah was classified the same way as she had just moved to Crestmont. Sadly, like her, I also became the subject of much ridicule and slander. It seems, just as she mentioned, that weak people prey on those that are even more vulnerable than themselves. People who mislead you to believe that they are your friends are usually the ones that end up breaking your heart in the first place, which I have seen happen time and time again to good people that I've known at school. Hannah had a similar transformation to my own in that she grew from a naïve and trusting person to a hardened cynic, but we both realized that there was a distinction between those truly good, and those who condemn others to misery.

Hannah is a character anyone, I believe, could identify with, from her sweet-tooth to her skill at writing poetry. For me, she was a copy of myself. When she took over the narration, I could hear her voice echoing in my head. Shockingly, it sounded very much like my own internal voice, and as the story unfolded, I began to read aloud as if I was Hannah herself. At times I had to stop and think about what I'd just read, connecting the dots, piecing together the whole picture. Other times I had to blink away the tears because it had resonated with a memory, and the emotion from that time would jump out and hold me in its grip.

As I poured over the paged, I was reminded of my freshman year, of the cliques that surrounded me, and of the people that I tried to please. Much like the main character, I felt no more connection to my parents, and their reactions to my feelings sounded like the scornful comments of her classmates in general. Her snowball of events could have dissolved, yet the finality of it was that it didn't. It brought up memories of others that I had heard of that may have had another hope for their lives. One of them, Megan Meir, especially stuck with me. In a way we were both betrayed in the worst ways imaginable, with Megan's statement, " You're the kind of boy a girl could kill herself over, " encompassing most of Hannah's list. And at one point, my life was exactly like that, exactly like them.

What I wonder most is why you wrote this book? It may seem obvious to others, but as for myself, I am baffled. The title alone should answer my question, but somehow, it isn't enough. Why would you choose to write about tragedy and despair; was it to identify with us teens? Maybe it was a way to show us that death wasn't a solution. But somehow, and answer as simple as that doesn't seem likely. There must be more to it.

I only ask because to me it is much more than a book; it is more of a reflection on the age we live in. It showed me that the darkest aspect of human nature can destroy as person, and what a single chain of events can do to someone's life. Most of all, it helped me to cope with the problems and to actively find help from those willing to do so. It is because of Hannah and everything she represented: hope; dreams; support, anything that goes with a happy life, that I felt that I had to begin writing again. It's why I wrote to you in the first place. It brought up feelings I thought had died with my flawed, idealist interpretation of reality. Most of all it gave me hope even though I was crying.

Amber-Nicole L. Watty