I didn’t think I was writing about bullying. But after Thirteen Reasons Why was released, I began to hear from students who experienced things similar to what I wrote about. They often referred to it as bullying and said it helped to see their emotions expressed in a novel. I also heard from students who treated others in ways similar to those in the book. They said they would be more conscious of not bullying from now on. And I heard from teachers who used the book to help address the topic of bullying.
So I guess I wrote about bullying. My definition had simply been too narrow.
It also made me realize that I had experienced bullying when I was in school. And sadly, I realized that I sometimes bullied. Does a new understanding of the definition change the past? No. But it helps me understand the past. And the power that comes from a better understanding of ourselves and others is one thing I was trying to discuss within the book.
This October, Thirteen Reasons Why turns seven years old. It has become more successful than I thought possible and has been used in more beautiful ways than I imagined. I receive daily messages from people who are using it to deal with bullying, either personally or as a community. And my publisher has read many similar messages left at thirteenreasonswhy.com.
So, earlier this year, they asked if I wanted to take this anti-bullying message into schools personally with a 50-state tour. And I said, “Um…”
One thing that terrifies me as an author is coming across as preachy. When I wrote the book, I was afraid people would find it too sad or too serious or too message-oriented, so I focused on making it suspenseful. I wanted readers to have a hard time putting it down even when it got sad and serious and the message was right in front. When I began speaking at schools, I used humor as a way to avoid sounding preachy even when discussing the serious topics in Thirteen Reasons Why.
My publisher now wanted me to tour the country and speak at schools, not merely as an author of a book, but as someone discussing an issue because of that book.
After initially saying, “Um…,” I said, “Yes.”
If a school wanted to bring me in to help their discussion about bullying, an issue that has become important to me, I couldn't say no. And schools jumped at the chance to use this as a way to further those discussions. On average, for every school I visit on this 50-state tour, there are 13 more schools who nominated themselves as a tour stop (yes, of course it was 13!). While I would still love to hide behind my book and have it do the talking, there are certain things only an author can say.
I have been bullied, and I have bullied. Like everyone, I have learned, and I am learning. As communities try to discuss and have a better understanding of the complexities of bullying, it is one of the greatest honors of my life to be a part of that.
On October 1st, for my first tour stop, I will speak at my old high school in California. That afternoon, I will fly to Texas. From there, and throughout the school year, I will speak at a school in every state. You can follow along and be a part of the discussion at 50statesagainstbullying.com and help spread hope using #REASONSWHYYOUMATTER.