As far as YAF (young adult fiction) books go, this one is pretty good. Often as an adult—which is not the intended audience for YAF—I get a bit bored and see the issues as somewhat overwrought; however, I didn’t feel that way with this book. And the irony is that it’s about bullying, which, in itself, feels overdone and often overwrought in so many books. But in my mind, three things saved this book from the “been there, done that” pile: first, it was written in 2001–that’s long before many of the bulling books and articles were published and long before schools have had extensive bullying training/awareness. So in the context of when it was written, the issue is probably fairly fresh. Second, it takes place in England. So now we get a Brit perspective on bullying, and taking place in a posh Brit school with uniforms and such, it seemed more believable and real. Third, it’s well-written. I can’t say that about all YAF books, but Mayfield offers compelling characters and great description. Throughout the book, sentences popped out like gems. Basic storyline: A highly academic and seemingly confident girl, Anna Goldsmith gets bullied (in those oh-so-subtle-girl-ways) by Hayley Parkin, the very girl who first befriended upon moving to this new school. Melanie Blackwood, Anna’s supposed real best friend, plays middle-girl, struggling to stand up to Hayley and too often falling into the tentacles of her manipulative techniques. As is so often the case, the bullying is discreet, subtle—the kind that few notice, and even when/if they do, a teacher assumes the highly confident girl being bullied (in this case, Anna) can easily handle it, and that it’s not really a problem. And so it builds and stays under the radar.
The character I identified so well with is Anna’s mom—a hard-working, driven person (who happens to be a teacher) who sees idle time as wasted time. The parent who asks about grades and music, but not so much about friends and mental health. The kind of parent that is a probably more patient with her students at school than her own children. The parent who assumes a confident, good student wouldn’t let a manipulative girl at school get under her daughter’s skin. Yep, that feels a bit like me. So this did make me think, and any book that makes me think is a good thing. Here’s one of many scene descriptions that I though was well-done. Anna is in the hospital (not too much of a spoiler alert here since we know by page 15 that she’ll end up there): “Anna is in Intensive Care. Tubes dangle from her like mooring ropes. Her bed is surrounded by machinery—monitors and screens, oxygen cylinders, masks and pipes, black boxes like stacking hi-fi equipment, and so many wires” (70). My students could learn a lot about concrete writing from that description. (fiction)