It's Not Just a Joke...

Sue Mayfield. Drowning Anna. New York: Hyperion Paperbacks, 2001.

Drowning Anna by Sue Mayfield provides readers a brutally honest view into one girls struggle with bullying. In this young adult novel Mayfield shows how serious bullying at school can become and points out the horrible consequences that can come from school bullying.

The main character, Anna, who was the new girl in school and "had amazing skin and this wonderful wild hair" (6), and every teachers favorite student, meets Haley Parkins, who is queen of the school and always has her gang of friends to back her up. The two soon become best friends, but when Anna becomes just as popular, suddenly, Anna became the girl who Haley Parkin declares World War III against, "Haley Parkin goes off people. I don't know why. Perhaps she gets bored with them. Perhaps she can't stand competition. She doesn't seem to need a reason" (12). Haley seems to stop at nothing to make sure everyone hated perfect, smart, pretty Anna, and as hard as Anna tries to ignore comments like, "Isn't that skirt a bit tight for you, Anna? Didn't they have a sweater your size? You look good in black, Anna. It suits your moods" (107). It wasn't long before Anna "started putting her hands up less, pretending she didn't know the answers when she did." and even "changed the ways she did her makeup" (106-7). Meanwhile, Anna publicly suffers her first heart break, and all the while her parents remain caught up in their jobs and oblivious to Anna's struggles. With the constant bullying, and left feeling alone in the world, Anna begins to deal with her pain by cutting and eventually voicing her thoughts on suicide to her one true friend Melanie. But despite her plea for help, the book opens with her mother Frances finding Anna "lying on the floor with her knees crooked to her chest, like a fetus. She is motionless. Her skin has a pearly sheen like the inside of a shell" (23).

Part of what makes this book so realistic and unique is because the reader is learns about Anna's world through a number of different perspectives. Each chapter switches to a new person's perspective, and allows the reader to experience multiple reactions to Anna's attempted suicide. Readers learn about her only one true friend Melissa, who has a guilt-filled reaction to her suicide, and fills us in on the dirty details leading up to Haley Parkin and Anna's falling out. Readers also get to see things from Anna's parents perspective, who struggle to understand the unknown life of their daughter, as well as gaining a painful look at their own lives. But, perhaps the most insightful perspective is the one that we are given from Anna's diary excerpts. These excerpts, wonderfully capture a teenager's voice and exposes a teenager who is confused and hurt by the one girl she decides to trust, as well as overcoming her first heart break.

Throughout the novel, Anna's frustration at the fact that no one seems to care or listen to her also becomes very apparent. She expresses this frustration in one particular diary excerpt where she says, "Maybe I should tell someone about Hayley. Maybe it's time to blow the whistle. But who would I tell? Who would believe me? And tell them what? That she calls me names? That she laughs at me? That sometimes she trips me up accidentally on purpose? Big deal!" (170) The reality of Anna's frustration and hopelessness is part of the reason this book is so important for teachers and their students. Anna expresses what many students, especially young girls bullied by their friends, may be feeling. Many times, bullied students are overlooked, much like Anna because of the thought; If the bullying isn't physical then what's the "big deal". But, Drowning Anna proves that verbal, behind the scenes bullying, which Haley prides herself on making Anna's world feel like hell, can ,in fact, be a very "big deal".

Verbal bullying can lead to very serious issues. Anna begins to hate herself and begins believing some of the lies Haley Parkin is spreading about her. As a result of the bullying Anna begins trying to find relief in things like cutting and eventually the bullying leads to her attempted suicide. Teachers who decide to use Drowning Anna in their classrooms will find a number of different issues to discuss. Although, the book is written about girl on girl bullying Drowning Anna is written so that girls and boys can find things to relate to. Some things that teachers will want to discuss include bullying, cutting and suicide.

About the Author

Sue Mayfield
Sue Mayfield was born in northeast England in 1963, and grew up loving the outdoors and the sea. She loved getting dirty and just being a typical kid. She thought about studying theatre, and moving to Alabama in college to study. There, she was a pizza waitress and from there went on to Oxford to study English. Among studying English, Sue acted in many plays and fell in love with a man named Tim, who is now her husband.

After College, Sue and Tim got married and moved to Bristol, where she taught as an English teacher. Sue did not always love writing, and didn’t begin to seriously think about writing a book until her first pregnancy where she was in her mid 20s. She jokingly blames her writing on the pregnancy hormones, and throughout her entire website, she comes across extremely down to Earth and humble.

Today, Sue spends much of her time with her family, as well as touring schools, where she reads to her audiences and gets feedback from them. She also likes to take ideas from these experiences for ideas on her next projects.

Sue mentions on her site that being a Christian plays a big role in her life, and is visible in all of her pieces of work in one way or another.

She enjoys cooking, the outdoors, family, friends, walking her dogs, salsa dancing, attending plays and movies, and watching television with her now, three grown-up sons. (Mayfield)

Find out more information about her on her website.

Recommendations for Teachers
This book would be a great choice for a themed bullying unit.
A couple of cites for Lesson plans
Information for Students, Teachers and Parents:

Topics for Classroom Discussions:
  • "New Kid"
  • Fitting in
  • Bullying
  • Suicide
  • Cutting - Self Mutilation

More Books by Sue Mayfield:

Teenage Fiction
Teenage Fiction


A Similar bullying story to Anna's...but this one is real.