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Author Jay Asher talks about the impact of his book, “13 Reasons - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Author Jay Asher talks about the impact of his book, “13 Reasons Why”

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Author Jay Asher speaks to students about suicide prevention. (KSBY photo) Author Jay Asher speaks to students about suicide prevention. (KSBY photo)

Local writer and New York Times best-selling author, Jay Asher, is well known to kids around the Central Coast.

His book about Hannah Baker, a high school student who's bullied to death, "13 Reasons Why," is a smash hit and is about to debut as a Netflix TV series.

In an extensive interview, Asher spoke to us about his work and the side job it led to, talking to teens about bullying and suicide.

Asher says he was caught off guard by the success of the book. He says its taboo nature is likely the reason for its appeal. But through the process, he says he's learned some things about how bullying can be minimized, if not prevented.

"We can all understand if we try, how somebody can get to a place where they just lose hope of things getting better," he says. "The whole trajectory of things going downhill for her starts with a rumor about her that's not true. But it doesn't matter if a rumor is true because if somebody believes it, that changes how they see her and changes how other people are going to treat her. There are also things that she does, though. She doesn't trust in the right people and sometimes there are people she could trust, but because she's already been hurt, she pushes them away."

Though Asher says he created the story as a work of fiction, he later found out Hannah's path is not atypical. In fact, teachers and experts in the field now use his book as a sort of field manual.

"Schools are using it to address these issues. I've heard from teen therapists who use it in their practice to help talk about these issues. That's stuff I could never have anticipated," Asher says.

What he also hadn't anticipated was his publisher sending him on a 50-state tour that started at San Luis Obispo High School, to begin a dialogue with teens about bullying.

"This student slipped me a note to read after he left and he said he had attempted suicide twice," Asher explains. "Just a month after his second attempt, he read the book and he realized he didn't want to be like the character who did that."

But Asher says he has no illusions that those forces will ever disappear completely. In fact, he thinks technology has made bullying more insidious, more cutting, with 24/7 social media spreading rumors like wildfire.

"A lot of times, when people do stuff to other people in a negative way, they're doing it just joking. They don't necessarily think what they're doing is that bad. Maybe that's what they see their friends doing and so they don't want to be excluded from that group, you know. The whole mob mentality is a very powerful thing," he says.

He suggests thinking about a two-pronged approach.

"It's going to happen, so how are you going to grow from it? And, it's going to happen, but how can we stop it from happening?"

He says speaking up is a good place to start.  

"Going up to the victim and saying, 'I saw what was happening and I know that that was wrong.' Just knowing people care can help," he says.

The Netflix series based on the book, "13 Reasons Why," debuts on Friday, March 31. 

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