It's Not Just Boys With Fists Anymore: Drowning Anna Takes on Bullying in Its Newest Form

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

external image 0786808705.jpgShe dropped Anna Goldsmith. No one really knew why. Maybe it was the rivalry in hockey. Maybe it was that Anna was cleverer than she was, and worked harder too. Maybe Anna wasn’t impressed with Hayley’s money and her designer gear. Or maybe it was just bad chemistry—one of those things, a personality clash.(16)

Social intimidation and peer pressure can destroy the fragile world adolescents have built around them by the time they reach high school. Sue Mayfield addresses this new form of bullying along with the issues of suicide, self-mutilation, and teenage sexuality in her book, Drowning Anna. The story begins serenely as Anna, the main character, comes home from school. She goes about her normal business, feeding the cat and checking the mail. However, the tone of the story quickly changes when Anna searches for prescription pills and grabs a bottle of vodka, intending on a fatal overdose. The rest of the story unfolds from the perspectives of Anna’s mother, her best friend Melanie, and Anna’s diary, which she kept during her years in high school.

Anna was a beautiful girl. Not only was she pretty, she was very talented on the violin and was a very smart girl. She had a supportive family, and her parents were very proud of their daughter and thought very highly of her. They moved to a new town just before Christmas when she was in the ninth grade. Instead of having difficulties fitting in, she was quickly befriended by the most popular girl in her grade, Hayley Parkin.

Sat beside a girl named Hayley. Hayley Parkin--nice name...She was very friendly. She said she'd take care of me. I was glad.

Anna was spoiled by Hayley, who gave her expensive gifts and took her on exotic vacations. This generous behavior soon changed inexplicably as Hayley began to chide Anna in public and abandon her at school, often choosing Melanie, one of Anna’s other close friends, over her. The ways in which Hayley chose to socially ruin Anna often were sly, but effective. Melanie was often forced to choose between sticking up for Anna and being Hayley’s confidant, and the majority of the time she elected the latter.

I saw Hayley bring her stick down like an axe, against Anna's ankle...It was a convincing performance. Everyone thought it was an accident.

This book brings to light a new problem in the school systems and begs the reader to consider his or her place within the social hierarchy. Because this book was written in a way that offers many different perspectives of Anna's life, almost every girl who reads Drowning Anna can find some aspect of a character to relate to, whether it be Melanie’s bewilderment, Anna’s desperation, Hayley’s popularity and desire to be queen of the school, or even Mrs. Goldsmith’s confusion. Though controversial, this book addresses the world of secondary schooling and the issues students face each day. Teachers can use this book as a starting point to spark conversation among students about what can be done to make school a safe and comfortable place to be.HayleH As shown in Drowning Anna, if left alone and unaddressed, bullying can become deadly as adolescents are ill-equipped to deal with the destruction of their social network and support system, and students can explore options to help eradicate tragic problems like this.

According to the International Movie Database, the British version of this book (titled Blue) will be made into a movie in 2009. Using the book and the movie in a classroom, teachers can delve into a discussion over the depiction of characters, as well as bringing text to life and the strategies filmmakers use to evoke emotions using actors and dialogue in the same way written words can. More information can be found here.

Drowning Anna is a contemporary book which deals with several prominent issues present in school systems today and can be a great book to spark important discussions among students, as well as get them to realize how dangerous consequences can occur if someone doesn't step in a stand up for a victim.

HaylRecommendations for Teachers
While the novel is written from a female perspective and deals with mostly females, the subject matter of Drowning Anna is universal for both sexes. Focusing on the subject matter may be helpful to make the book easier for males in the class to relate to.
Areas of Discussion
  • Bullying-different types
  • Self-Mutilation
  • Suicide
  • Peer-Pressure/Friends
  • Self-Consciousness/Insecurities
All of these topics could be discussed as a group or even separately as males and females.

Resources for Teachers, Parents, and Students

Books on Bullying
The Bully-Free Classroom, Allan L. Beane
Queen Bees & Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence, Rosalind Wiseman
Bullying Behavior: Current Issues, Research, and Interventions, Robert Geffner, Marti Loring, and Corinna Young

About Sue Mayfield
external image pic1.jpg Sue Mayfield was born in northeast England in 1963. As a child, she enjoyed being outdoors, riding horses, and getting muddy. Mayfield dreamed of becoming an actor. As a young adult, she realized that her dreams were taking her in another direction. She attended Oxford University to study English. This was where she met and fell in love with her future husband, Tim. A week after her final exams, she and Tim were married.

Mayfield became an English teacher at a school in Bristol. She began writing in her mid-20s while pregnant with her first child. Mayfield’s first book was a non-fiction called Timeline: Women in Power. She wrote her second novel, a fiction book called I Carried You on Eagle’s Wings while pregnant with her second child. Since then she has focused on writing fiction and spirituality. Drowning Anna’s original title was Blue because it suggested melancholy and moodiness as well as represented different aspects of importance within the novel.

Mayfield has said that most of her ideas for novels come from real life, and her characters are a mix of imagination and based on real people. She revealed that though she enjoys writing she often gets fed up with writing. Mayfield said that there are “barren days” or “biggie days” that afterward seems like there is only rubbish in her writing. But she never hits delete. She believes that those days are not as bad as they seem and in most cases she can salvage some good.

When Mayfield is not writing, she enjoys salsa dancing, reading, cooking and watching television with her three kids. She also enjoys tutoring adult learners and working with the youth at her church.

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

The video from ABC News depicts the new methods of bullying. Teenage girls are commonly known for their mean behavior. These professionals look into the minds of girls, both victims and bullies, and try to explain the effects and the reasons for their malicious behavior.
Malicious Teen Girls

This is the movie trailer for the Lifetime Original film Odd Girl Out about a young girl just like Anna Goldsmith who is befriended and then belittled by the same girl. Her mother tries to help but cannot stop her daugher from attempting suicide.
Odd Girl Out

Song and music video from Kelly Rowland released in 2002 about bullying and its effects.

Additional Resources:
  • Sue Mayfield - Official homepage of the author. Includes informations about her, FAQ's, and other books she has written.
  • Facts Of Bullying - Page for adults and youth on who bullies, who gets bullied, how to prevent it, and how to stop it with many more helpful hint.
  • Bullying Facts and Statistics - A useful site of stats and prevention programs.
  • Support Group - A page specifically set up for victims of bullying.
  • Types - "Those who can, do. Those who can't, bully" A list of different types of bullies and how they can be identified.
  • Effects of Bullying - Effects and other links on the site to explainations of bullying and their victims.
  • Stop Bullying Now - Site dedicated to ending bullies reign on people.
  • Bully Stories - A site made to tell the stories of parents, students, and survivors of bullying.
  • Lesson Plans - Site with lesson plans for young children on bullying. Includes questions and videos.
  • In the Movies - Issues related to bullying and how bullying movies and television shows portray bullies.
  • On the Web - The official site against the newest form of bullying, cyber bullying.

Our Podcast on Drowning Anna:

--Saralynn Bush, Jennifer Krygier, Kendra Hilton, and Krashawn McElveen