What Happened in 'Thirteen Reasons Why'? A Recap Of Jay Asher's Bestselling Novel
Jay Asher's YA novel 13 Reasons Why is making its debut on Netflix on March 31st in a 13 part series produced by Selena Gomez. Many young adult fans were incredibly excited by this news when it was first announced months ago, but now that the release is only a couple of days away, you might be struggling to remember exactly what this story is all about. If you read it when it was first published in 2007, you've almost certainly forgotten a few details...or maybe you missed out on the super emotional read completely. Never fear, we're here with a recap to set you up perfectly for the compare and contrast with the show.
Let's start with the overall plot summary. Clay Jensen returns home from school one day 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 as he follows Hannah's recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.
Okay, let's break things down even further, shall we? What exactly is on all of those tapes? We're going to tell you. Major spoilers ahead.
Cassette 1: Side A
The first tape is about Justin Foley, the first guy that Hannah ever kissed. Hannah says that Justin was her friend Kat's boyfriend but when Kat moved he asked for her number and and they made plans to meet at Eisenhower Park. Clay remembers a rumor he heard: that Hannah let Justin put his hands up her shirt in the park. Hannah stresses that all they did was kiss.
He recalls seeing Hannah walk by Justin and a bunch of his friends at school. They all got quiet and lowered their eyes while she passed, and then they started laughing. Thinking back, he knows this is one of the reasons he was too shy to talk to Hannah. Clay figured that Hannah was too experienced to ever want to be with him.
On the tape, Hannah thanks Justin for her first kiss, and for the kisses he gave her for the month they were together, before he started telling people that they had done more. She explains that the rumor was just the beginning, that it gave her a bad reputation.
Cassette 1: Side B
Side B of tape 1 is for Alex Standall. Alex is on the tape because he put Hannah down as "Best Ass in the Freshman Class." Her then-friend Jessica Davis was voted "worst ass." Giving Alex an example of how her life changed after the list, she talks about a guy from school who smacked her ass at a store. Hannah slapped his hand away and tried to leave, but the guy grabbed her wrist.
Now Clay is sure he knows who the guy is. He's seen him grab other girls' wrists before. Clay always wants to make him stop, but he never does. He doesn't know how he'd do it.
Hannah says that Alex's list gave the guy an excuse to treat her this way. She says that when you hold people up for ridicule, you have to take responsibility. But, she says, she wasn't really the one being ridiculed... Jessica Davis was. Hannah says the next tape is for Jessica.
Cassette 2: Side A
When Hannah first moved to town, there were two other new kids, Alex Standall and Jessica Davis. Hannah and Jessica met through a guidance counselor, Miss Antilly, who left at the end of the year. Hannah says that the change in guidance counselors was "very unfortunate". Clay wonders whether their current counselor Mr. Porter had a role in Hannah's suicide.
Hannah says that she and Jessica met Alex at Monet's Garden, a coffee shop. She says that Alex and Jessica weren't really her friends; they were just hanging out with each other until they made real friends.
After Alex's list came out, Jessica told Hannah to meet her at Monet's. When Hannah got there, Jessica accused her of stealing Alex from her. Hannah denied it but Jessica said she'd heard all the rumors about Hannah. Hannah said she would take the blame for the breakup if that's what Jessica wanted, but that the rumors weren't true. Jessica then smacked and scratched Hannah, leaving a scar. Hannah says it was like a stab in the back, that Jessica would believe the rumors over her.
Cassette 2: Side B
Bracing himself, Clay hits play on the next tape. Hannah says this tape is for Tyler Down, who she calls a "Peeping Tom." One week when Hannah's parents were out of town, she heard the click of a camera from her bedroom. The next day at school, she told a girl what had happened. Hannah asked her if she wanted to come over that night to help her catch the guy, and the girl agreed.
When they heard the clicking sound that night, the girl had fun with it. She asked Hannah to give her a back rub and she did the camera kept clicking. Then the girl got up and went to Hannah's dresser where she pretended to find sex toys. Eventually Hannah raised the blind and the peeper ran off.
The next day, Hannah says that Tyler's reaction showed he was guilty. He never came back to her house again. After that, Hannah closed her blinds all the way, every night. Tyler had taken away the one safe place she had.
Cassette 3: Side A
This tape is for Courtney Crimson, the mystery girl from the last tape. Hannah says that Courtney acts like she loves everybody but it's all just an act. Hannah knew they weren't friends, but Courtney pretended otherwise when she needed a ride to a party. As soon as they got there, Courtney said she and Hannah should split up. She told Hannah to wait for her, though, because she needed Hannah to drive her home. Hannah wasn't surprised or disappointed. She knew this would happen.
Through the headphones, Clay suddenly hears a girl calling his name. He turns to see Skye Miller sitting on the bus. He used to have a crush on her in eighth grade but for the past few years she's been pretty withdrawn. When he gets off the bus, he can see Skye with her head against the window and her eyes closed.
Back on the tape Hannah says that at the party that night, she decided to leave when a guy came up to her and said Courtney told him and the other guys that Hannah kept sex toys in her dresser. Incredibly upset, Hannah decided she couldn't stand the town anymore.
Cassette 3: Side B
On this tape, Hannah says that before Valentine's Day, the cheerleaders put on a fundraiser for cheer camp. For five dollars you could get a list with five phone numbers of people at school who were a good match for you. You filled out a survey describing yourself and your ideal partner. On Hannah's list was the person this tape is about: Marcus Cooley.
Marcus asked her out to Rosie's after school. Hannah says she definitely didn't trust the people Marcus hung out with. But if she wanted other people to look beyond the rumors about her, she had to give other people the benefit of the doubt, too. So she decided to give Marcus a chance.
Hannah waited at Rosie's for Marcus for half an hour. She was about to leave when Marcus showed up. He said he thought Hannah was kidding about the date, but he decided to show up just in case. He put his hand on her knee, then started moving it up her leg. He wouldn't stop when she asked, and she ended up pushing him out of the booth. He fell on the floor and then left, calling her a tease.
Cassette 4: Side A
Hannah starts this tape by talking about her Peer Communications class. As things got worse for Hannah at school, this class became her safe haven. The teacher, Mrs. Bradley, created a system for the students to give each other anonymous notes of encouragement. Hannah says that, as far as she knows, nobody ever sent mean notes. So she wants to know why Zach Dempsey, the person this tape is about, decided to be mean.
Hannah says that after Marcus left Rosie's, Zach came over and sat next to Hannah, but she ignored him. Zach was nice but Hannah didn't trust him. After she rejected Zach, Hannah says, he got revenge by stealing her notes of encouragement. Hannah says that her home life wasn't so great at that time either. She needed to notes to keep her afloat. Hannah found herself thinking even more about suicide.
Hannah decided to put an anonymous note in Mrs. Bradley's bag, saying she was thinking about suicide. Mrs. Bradley read the note to the class and opened the discussion. Her classmates said that whoever wrote the note just wanted attention.
Cassette 4: Side B
Hannah starts this tape by talking about poetry. She says that almost every day she would write a few poems. It gave her something to look forward to.
Clay starts to wish he could have a do-over for the summer he worked at the movie theater with Hannah. He remembers, at a party a few weeks ago, when was able to admit his true feelings for Hannah. If he hadn't cared so much what other people would think, he might have been able to save her.
Back on the tape Hannah is saying that she signed up for a poetry class at the library. Ryan Shaver, editor of The Lost-N-Found Gazette, a school paper, was also in the class. This tape is for Ryan. After a couple of weeks of poetry class, Hannah and Ryan started reading their poems to each other. Ryan was particularly interested in a poem Hannah wrote after the suicide talk in class. Hannah wants to know how Ryan could have stolen her poem and published it in the Gazette even though he knew what a bad state she was in.
Clay remembers everybody making fun of the poem. Students and teachers ripped the poem apart for over a week.
Cassette 5: Side A
Clay is trying to decide where to go next when he hears his friend Tony call his name. It turns out he has the second set of tapes. Tony says he'll explain after Clay listens to the next one – Clay's tape.
Hannah says that the next stories are centered around one night, and Clay knows exactly what night she's talking about – the night of the party. All Hannah wanted was to find Clay and have a real conversation with him. She couldn't believe it when Clay was there next to her, saying he thought they should talk. After a while, they got up to try to find a quiet place. They kissed but when Hannah started thinking about Justin and how he had spoiled their kiss, she freaked out. She told Clay to stop and yelled at him until he left the room.
After the party, she became extremely suicidal. That night she started making her list. She says that the next person has already been on one tape, so Clay should skip it and mail the tapes to the next person once he's done with this one.
Clay knows who it is: Justin.
Cassette 5: Side B
Hannah continues the story of the party. After Clay left, another couple came into the bedroom. She doesn't mention the couple by name, but Clay knows she's talking about Justin and Jessica. It was obvious that the girl was really drunk, but the guy was still trying to have sex with her. When he couldn't get her to respond, he gave up and left the room. Hannah could see his shoes under the door; he seemed to be guarding the door while the girl was inside. Then she saw another set of shoes and the door opened.
It was the guy's friend, trying to convince the guy (Justin) to let him in the room so he could have sex with the girl while she was passed out. At first, this guy said no. But his friend kept pushing, and finally he let him in. Afraid, Hannah hid in the closet. Clay realizes who the friend must be: Bryce Walker. Hannah knows she could have stopped it, and she knows that she's almost as much to blame for what happened to Jessica as Justin is. Both of them allowed it to happen.
Cassette 6: Side A
Tony starts to explain his part in everything: he says that Hannah came to visit him, to give him her bike. Several days later, Tony's set of tapes arrived at his house. He realized that he had the second set that was meant to be released to the public if the people on the list didn't follow Hannah's rules. Tony decided to honor Hannah's wishes and make sure the people on the tapes did as she asked.
Then he starts this tape. We're still at the party.
Hannah says this tape is for Jenny Kurtz, the cheerleader who offered to drive her home after the party. At first things were really nice. It was comfortable in Jenny's car and raining lightly, so Hannah dozed off. Suddenly, Jenny smacked into a stop sign, knocking it down. Hannah tried to get Jenny to call the police, but Jenny refused. She made Hannah get out of the car and drove away. Hannah talks about an accident from that night: she feels responsible for it. By the time she called the police, a man had already hit the boy with his car. All because of a fallen stop sign.
Cassette 6: Side B
After the party, Hannah began planning to kill herself. She says this tape is about one of the last weekends of her life. A week after the party, there was another one at Courtney Crimson's. Although it was close by, she wasn't about to go to this party. She still hadn't recovered from the last one.
When it seemed like it had died down, Hannah decided to take a walk and see if anyone was drunk and needed a ride home. When she walked by Courtney's house, she heard her name. It was Bryce Walker calling to her over Courtney's backyard fence. He said she should get into the hot tub with him and Courtney. She knew she shouldn't, but she decided to join them.
Soon Bryce started touching Hannah under the water. Courtney left the hot tub. Bryce continued to touch Hannah, and even though she didn't want him to, she didn't tell him to stop. She was sure he could tell that she wanted him to stop, but he kept going. She let him have sex with her.
Cassette 7: Side A
Clay gets to Eisenhower Park, the place where Hannah had her first kiss. He climbs into the rocket-ship slide and pushes play. Hannah says she's going to try one more thing before she ends her life. She's going to see Mr. Porter, her guidance counselor. This tape is for him. At that point, Clay hears Hannah knock on a door in the tape. She is recording the conversation with Mr. Porter. She admits that she's thinking of ending her life, but she doesn't want to do it. That's why she's come to Mr. Porter for help.
Hannah says she feels like no matter what she does, people keep hurting her. She alludes to what happened at Courtney's house. Mr. Porter tells Hannah that if nothing illegal happened and she doesn't want to go to the police, she has two choices: She can talk to the boy or just move on.
She thanks Mr. Porter and turns to go. She waits for him to come after her, to try again to reach her, but he doesn't. This is the final proof she needs that nobody cares enough to try to save her. She says she's sorry.
Cassette 7: Side B
Clay listens to the sound of static on the unnumbered B-side of the last tape. He's still in the rocket-ship trying to get a grip on everything he's heard. Suddenly he hears Hannah's voice again. She's recorded something on this side. Her voice sounds warm as she says, "Thank you"
The next day Clay is late for school. He's late because he mailed the tapes to Jenny Kurtz, but also because he can't bear to see Mr. Porter and Hannah's empty desk. When he walks down the hall, he wonders how he'll react to the people at school, knowing what he knows now. As he walks by Mr. Porter's classroom, he sees Skye Miller, the sad girl he saw on the bus the day before, while listening to Cassette 3. He keeps walking past Mr. Porter's classroom toward Skye. Clay suddenly feels a flood of emotion...pain and anger and sadness and pity, but also hope.
When he's just behind Skye, he says her name.