Jay Asher’s ‘13 Reasons Why’ is important TV, and we want to hear more from him

Where in the world is Jay Asher?

That was the question on our minds last week when we were working on a story about local reaction to the Netflix version of Asher’s best-seller “13 Reasons Why.”

The story of a high school girl’s suicide laid out in a series of cassette tape audio diaries has been a breakaway hit for the video-streaming service and opened the San Luis Obispo author’s 2007 book to a whole new and broader audience.

It also opened him to a new round of praise and criticism, which is why we were interested in talking to him.

Many viewers have applauded the show for generating a dialogue about teen suicide and the issues that surround it. Others are worried that it may glorify the tragedy of a young person taking their own life.

Asher was willing to chat in the run-up to the series release in March. But since then, he’s been pretty quiet.

“I absolutely love what they did with (the story),” he said in an interview with The Tribune in March, recounting how he watched the first two episodes at the series wrap party.

“I remember being very tense the entire two hours we were watching it because I was amazed by what I was seeing. It was so good,” Asher recalled. Afterward, he said, he felt “a sense of relief but also of pride.”

He should be proud, because in an entertainment world where redos, knockoffs and copycats are often the order of the day, his book is unique, both in its storytelling device and gut-wrenching honesty.

The creators of the Netflix series did not shy away from the cavalcade of painful and controversial topics, from mean gossip and bullying to two sexual assaults and ultimately a teen suicide that will turn your stomach.

The climactic scene might be the hardest thing I’ve watched since “127 Hours,” and I had to turn off that movie.

If you’re a parent and haven’t watched the series (or read the book), I’d recommend doing so.

It is not just some teen show targeted at the high school set. Its mature rating doesn’t allow it to be. It’s also not really suitable for middle-schoolers. There are simply too many graphic scenes.

Yes, you may have to suspend belief on some points. The most nonsensical one: Why doesn’t Clay binge-listen to the tapes rather than drag them out over the course of several days?

Also, in many ways, the kids in the show are more credible than the adults, who really aren’t any help in preventing the eventual tragic end.

That said, the series is courageous work on a topic that is too often swept under the rug. We don’t prevent teen suicide by not talking about it. “13 Reasons Why” helps that dialogue.

One of my favorite parts, actually, was the 30-minute postlude, which includes interviews with the cast, producers and expert advisers as well as support resources for at-risk viewers.

It’s just the right kind of serious-minded closer for this kind of a show, and it further vaults the discussion from TV fiction to real life.

With all of this in mind, I’d love to hear from the author himself about how reaction to his creation on the screen differs from what he experienced with the book.

It is puzzling that he hasn’t responded to interview requests. We even went and knocked on his door, only to be told he was out of town.

OK … but, cellphone. Right?

It appears he was on the road in Minnesota for the Twin Cities Teen Lit Convention.

“The only thing that bothers me, is when people try to shut down conversation about it,” Asher told the crowd there, according to KMSP-TV. “To me, that is the most dangerous thing.”

I agree. At the same time, I can understand how the intense attention to the show may have exposed him to the outside world in ways the book didn’t. He is still active on Twitter.

Meanwhile, last week, Netflix renewed “13 Reasons” for a second season. What role will Asher have in extending his story?

Asher’s book has inspired an important dialogue, and he’s part of that conversation.

Fans of his work, especially local ones, would love to hear from him.

Joe Tarica: 805-781-7911, @joetarica

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