Not Waving, but Drowning...

Sue Mayfield, Drowning Anna. New York: Hyperion, 2002.

external image 0786808705.jpg"If I called you a murderer, would that be too strong a word? By the time you read this I will be dead. That was what you wanted all along, wasn't it? To get rid of me completely. Character assassination, they call it.
I don't know what I did to make you hate me so much.
I don't know what went wrong. What made us enemies?
You have made me hate myself. You have made me feel worthless. You have made me want to die.
I hope that makes you feel good.
You did a good job, Hayley! I was your victim all right. You were like a spider devouring its prey.
I hope it tastes good, Hayley! Your victory.
I hope you don't regret it.
Your one-time friend,
Anna Goldsmith."

Every person is a victim of bullying at some point in their lives. Bullying can take many forms, from snide comments made on an outfit worn in class to threats of physical violence by a peer. Most people experience bullying infrequently, only enough to depress them for a day or so, and nor is it common to receive threats involving bodily harm. It is generally harmless enough for a person to move on with her life shortly after the bullying takes place. But what if it does not stop? How much can one person stand on their own against daily assaults before it becomes too much, and to what lengths would she go to make them end?

Sue Mayfield's Drowning Anna is a harrowing look into the life of Anna Goldsmith, a smart but naively shy teenager new to the area. She is forced to endure "mean girl" bullying everyday at school, as well as the pressure to conform to social standards, and the effects of those pressures end up being too much for Anna to handle. Most teenagers, girls especially, will quickly identify with at least one character in the book, whether it be Melanie, Anna's best and only friend whose need for approval often overpowers her feelings of friendship and loyalty. Melanie feels torn between her fierce need to be accepted and the real friendship she knows she has with Anna. She often ends up giving into pressures from Hayley Parkin, the cruel and powerful girl set on destroying Anna's happiness, or her friends such as Siobhan, who taunt Anna in an effort to gain the approval of Hayley and hopefully a little popularity.

One of the important questions that arises as readers make their way through the text is what drives Hayley to the constant cruelty she subjects Anna too? It's a question that works its way through the reader's mind each time Hayley finds a new flaw in Anna, trips her when no one is looking, or spreads lies about things she has done. Hayley once seemed to adore Anna but then suddently dropped her. The reason is never clarified; is it because she is jealous, bored, afraid of the competition, or simply does not need a reason? It could arguably be any one of these, as well as many other things. What is perhaps most chilling is that we never know the reason, just as it is often never discovered why bullies act the way they do in our own lives, and why they target those they do.

Mayfield's in-depth look into bullying and its affects on the victim may cause some students to realize, while reading, that their actions have consequences that often go unnoticed until a culmination of emotions and feelings results in depression or, as in Anna's case, suicide. Not only students, but teachers and parents, can learn and benefit from reading Drowning Anna. It is often hard to notice the signs of a victim of bullying until it is too late, as Anna's mother Francis bitterly learns. The kinds of bullying, the people who perform it, and the people they choose to focus on are infinite, and so the jobs of parents, teachers, and friends in recognizing these subtle signs is incredibly important.

By reading and discussing this novel with your students, they gain an understanding of just how devestating bullying can be, which may force them to think twice about bullying someone. This novel recieves an A for readablility and relevance to student's lives and a rating of PG-13 for language, content and reference to sex. This novel may be challenged by parents or adminstrators, but the rich content and important message expressed is worth fighting for.
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About The Author
(1963 - )
Susan Mayfield grew up in Cullercoats (England) and studied English at Oxford University. She didn’t seriously pursue writing until her mid-twenties. Since publishing her first novel in 1988, Mayfield has concentrated heavily on writing books for teenagers. In addition, she has written many stories and rhymes for younger children (under the age of five). Mayfield is a trained teacher. Throughout the 90’s, she commonly visited many schools, where she was involved in various activities including storytelling, performance, and student workshops. Mayfield taught creative writing to adults as well. Currently, Mayfield lives in Cheltenham where she continues to write, and participate in leisure activities while raising her family.

Mayfield’s written works include:
Teen Fiction:
-On Eagles’ Wings
-Patterns in the Sand
Young Fiction
-Our Wonderful World
-Molly Muddle’s Cake
-The Four Franks
-Youth Emmaus
-Life Balance


English 311 Podcast:

Excerpt from Mean Girls:

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Bullies in Books a website with YA titles that encourage discussion about bullying

The Bully in The Book and in The Classroom Excerpts from Google Books with helpful tips to increase teachers awareness to, and help control bullying in the classroom.
Social Aggression Among Girls Excerpts from Google Books dealing with relational aggression and girls

Website dealing with Relational Aggression in girls, examples, resources, and research

Sue Mayfield questions and answers