Clay flips the tape over. Hannah begins it by asking her listeners whether they’d want the power to hear other people’s thoughts. She says if people could hear each other thinking, they’d hear millions of ideas, both true and made up, all colliding. That’s why Hannah loves poetry—she loves how the more confusing a poem is, the less you know what a writer is really talking about. Clay knows that if this tape is about poetry, it’s not the one about him.
For Hannah, the power to have control over her own thoughts—for people to be unable to work out what she really means—is highly valuable. One of the only ways she can do that is through poetry, which for her is a way to obscure the real meaning of her thoughts from others.
Hannah tried writing poetry for a while. She jokes that it was cheaper than a therapist. A few days a week, she’d go to Monet’s after school and write poetry. She ended up memorizing the first poem she wrote in her notebook. She recites that poem now on the tape. Writing poetry allowed her to survive her days at school, she explains, because she knew she could turn anything that happened into a poem. When she stopped caring about herself, she stopped writing the poems, but she still couldn’t get away from her relentless thoughts.
Hannah’s joke about poetry being cheaper than therapy is a little macabre given that she never ended up accessing the therapeutic help that might have helped to prevent her death. At this point in the story, though, she still enjoys at least one thing—poetry—and it’s enough to get her through school. It’s a sign that she still feels a little bit of hope in her life.
As Clay listens to Hannah’s tape, he sees Tony walking out the front door of Rosie’s. He’s confused that Tony didn’t say goodbye. Tony gets in his car and turns on the headlights, revs the engines, and backs up. The car disappears from Clay’s view, but the headlights don’t fade away; they turn off suddenly. He wonders whether Tony is sitting out there waiting, though he doesn’t know why. Clay pauses the tape. He sees the movie theater sign in the window and wishes he could relive the summer he spent working there with Hannah.
Tony’s behavior is mysterious to Clay. It’s also ominous, suggesting that Tony has something more to do with the tapes than Clay knows about yet. Hannah’s tapes are making Clay feel reflective; he wonders how he could’ve behaved differently if he’d known how Hannah was feeling.
When Clay worked in the box office, he would call Hannah at the concession stand to bring him change. When she brought it to him, he was excited by how close they were to each other in the tiny box office. But if anyone saw them that close, he pretended he felt nothing—he was scared of Hannah’s reputation. He decided he deserves to be on Hannah’s list because he let his fear get in the way of connecting with her; if he hadn’t been afraid, she might still be alive.
Clay realizes that he was trying to balance his genuine pleasure at being so close to Hannah with his fear of how people would treat him if they thought he and Hannah were dating. This demonstrates the power of rumors—Clay’s fear of his peers spreading rumors about him means he doesn’t pursue a potential connection with someone he likes—and this potentially changes the course of Hannah’s life.
Clay plays the tape. Hannah says that after she stopped writing poetry, she began to miss it and decided to start writing it again to make herself happy. She resumes her story. One day, Hannah finds flyer at Monet’s for a course called “Poetry: To Love Life.” The course is held at the public library. (The library is one of the places Hannah starred on the map she included with the tapes, though it’s too dark for Clay to go there.) Hannah starts attending the poetry course but soon realizes that the happy women on the flier don’t represent the group well: in reality, the attendants prefer to write about death and destruction. She only goes to three meetings, but through them, she meets Ryan Shaver. Ryan edits the Lost-N-Found Gazette at school, a publication that reprints odd notes, photographs, and doodles he finds scattered around.
Hannah’s decision to attend the poetry course is a huge step—it shows she’s still willing to connect with other people and do something that makes her happy, even though she feels out of control of her life. As we’ll later learn, this is another hopeful decision that ends in disappointment and hurt for Hannah, and it might contribute to her decision to disconnect from other people.
As soon as Hannah mentions Ryan on the tape, Clay works out that the poem everyone read in the Gazette and then studied in English class while Hannah was in attendance, must’ve been Hannah’s poem. Now, Clay wants to scream—he doesn’t want to hear Hannah read the poem. But Hannah, on the tape, says she won’t read it—all her listeners already know it anyway.
Clay is worried that Hannah will read the poem out loud. The thought of hearing the poem in her voice after she has died scares him, which emphasizes his strong emotional connection to Hannah and his frustration that he couldn’t help her.
On the tape, Hannah asks Ryan if he really did just “find” everything he reprinted—or if he stole some of it. Though Ryan swore he found it all by chance, copied it, and distributed it around school for people to find, Hannah says that Ryan did steal something for the Gazette: her poem.
Here, Hannah reveals the truth about a beloved staple of her school’s student life. Thanks to her story, her listeners are realizing that the things they assumed were true were in fact false rumors—and the people they thought were sweet or innocent in fact harmed and disrespected Hannah.
Hannah resumes her story. After a poetry meeting, she and Ryan read their poems to each other—only happy poems—and explain them to each other. The week after that, they share their whole poetry notebooks with each other, then they spend the next two hours reading them. Hannah feels that Ryan’s poems are more emotional and evocative than hers. But one of her poems grabs his attention. He wants to know more about it, but she doesn’t tell him that she wrote it the day her class discussed suicide. Instead, she tells him the poem has to speak for itself. Ryan tells Hannah that he thinks the poem is about her needing her mother to accept her, and, more importantly, her desire for a certain boy to notice her. As Clay sits in Rosie’s, which is empty now, he suddenly realizes that he’s the boy Hannah’s poem refers to.
Hannah and Ryan’s friendship begins slowly—at first, they’re not ready to trust each other fully, which is clear from the fact that they only share happy poems with each other. Hannah seems to feel like she’s made a genuine connection with Ryan. He values her work and spends time analyzing it. However, she doesn’t relinquish control over it entirely, because she doesn’t tell him the circumstances of her writing it; she’s unable to fully express the extent of her hopelessness. Clay’s realization that it’s him in the poem shows how much closer he’s grown to Hannah over the course of listening to the tapes.
Hannah’s story continues. On another level, Ryan thinks Hannah’s poem is really a letter to herself about how she is the one neglecting and overlooking herself. He tells her the poem is deeper than he can understand. On the tape, Hannah addresses Ryan, asking him how he could steal her notebook if he really thought the poem was so deep. By printing it in the Gazette, Hannah explains, he allowed other people to pick it apart. Hannah shares the poem on the tape. It ends with the lines, “see me / for my soul / alone.”
Ryan’s comment that the poem is deeper than his analysis of it echoes the fact that Hannah hasn’t opened up to anyone about how she feels. People might be able to sense that she’s isolated and sad, but they don’t know she’s contemplating suicide. Hannah reads the poem out loud even though she said earlier that she wouldn’t, suggesting that she’s decided that her listeners should experience her emotions as vividly as possible.
On the tape, Hannah’s story continues. After Ryan publishes Hannah’s poem, some people ask Hannah whether she wrote the poem, but she refuses to confirm that she did. That makes them angry. People start writing parodies of the poem to try to make Hannah angry. After Tyler had invaded her privacy at home, Ryan’s theft and sharing of the poem at school makes Hannah feel like her thoughts aren’t even her own. The tape ends.
People’s anger that Hannah doesn’t confirm she’s the poet echoes their anger about the anonymous note about suicide in Peer Communications class—they’re angry that someone with such deep feelings won’t give their peers the satisfaction of knowing who they are. Hannah feels protective of her own thoughts, though, and she tries to keep them to herself as much as she can.
Clay takes the headphones off. The man over the counter refuses to let him pay for his milkshake: he can tell something’s wrong in Clay’s life, so he wants him to keep his money. Clay can’t find the words to thank him, so he just nods and leaves.
Clay is evidently upset. The man’s refusal to take his money is a sign that, just as people’s cruelty and gossip can combine to make someone feel hopeless, people can also, in their own small ways, contribute to other people’s happiness.