Coming of Age in the Context of Hyperemotional Listening and Cognitive Mapping: Navigating the Emotional Landscape in Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why

Abstract: Jay Asher’s debut young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why is comprised of thirteen transcriptions of the late Hannah Baker’s anecdotes which she recorded onto tapes before committing suicide, interspersed by Clay Jensen’s reactions to said recordings. The novel is presented in the form of a dual narrative, switching back and forth between the points of view of the two protagonists. In addition to the represented medium of audio, the cartographic plays a dominant role in mapping the emotional landscape Clay experiences in the course of listening to Hannah’s tapes and assessing his own role in her story. This essay explores to what degree the covertly intermedial interface of the novel contributes to the creation of narrative meaning, assessing the media-emotion nexus underlying the narrative. This article highlights the challenges of assessing the tracing and translating of the aesthetics of audio into text. Additionally, Marie-Laure Ryan’s concept of cognitive mapping is applied to Asher’s novel, thereby examining the interplay between the media of audio and the cartographic to establish the emotional landscape that characterizes this contemporary young adult suicide novel.

The voice of the seventeen year-old high school student Hannah Baker claims “[e]verything . . . affects everything” (Asher 202). This protagonist of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why1 committed suicide and recorded her story onto seven tapes for the thirteen people she thought of as instrumental in her decision to take her life. In early 2017, the adaptation of the young adult (YA) novel into a thirteen-episode hit series on Netflix has advanced the novel’s critical content into a public dialogue surrounding bullying, sexual violence, and assault. For example, questions of how adolescent suicide is treated within the online community, as on YouTube and on websites encouraging readers to share their reactions to the novel, have initiated that conversation around the highly debated issue of adolescent suicide in both literature and online pop culture of the twenty-first century.

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