Friday, 6 June 2014

Anna's Story by Bronwyn Donaghy: A book review

I have read and reread Anna's Story numerous times since first stumbling across it in the school library. It's a biograohy of Anna Wood, a fifteen year old girl who died due to risk taking behaviour. It could have been prevented. Anna's death was explored and reported by the media and her family have spent years infroming teenagers across Australia about the dangers of taking drugs.

Sadly, Bronwyn Donaghy, the author this this book passed away in 2002. The book was published soon after Anna's death and before a coroner's report was made available, so there is a little bit of misinformation in here. However, the book also covers a lot of information surrounding drugs, alcohol and the effect it has on young people. As a writer, Donaghy was sympathetic to the plight of the Wood family and diplomatic in the way she dealt with Anna's large assortment of best friends.

The book is made up of three parts, but I've devised my own 'parts'.


Part One: We learn about Anna.
I think I would have liked Anna. She seemed really cool and fun to be with. She liked the underdog. She liked helping people. She liked beauty and hair and all sorts of things.

Everyone who was friends with Anna says at the start of their chapter (yes, they have their own chapters) 'I am ____. I was Anna's best friend.'

Everybody is Anna's best friend. Then again, I remember being a teenager well enough. Everyone was either my best friend, someone I worked with or someone I didn't like. That was it. Maybe it is the same for Anna. They all say she liked hugs (one friend suggests teenagers hug so much because their parents don't hug them enough), that she didn't really approve of drugs but she tried some ecstasy previous to her second lethal dose. She smoked sometimes and she was trying to give it up.

As a straight edge kid (no smoking, no drinking, certainly never exceeding my midnight curfew), and someone who lies with great difficulty, Anna seemed much more sophisticated than me. Maybe that's just me though, I don't know.

Part Two: Information and advice (as scattered around the book)
Forget harm minimisation, these kids should have known better. They should have been smarter. They should have been educated enough to dial am ambulance. They coulda shoulda woulda done a lot of things, but we are speaking about children here. Yes, almost adults, but still, they are children. I did some stupid things at fifteen, and had I been in Chloe's shoes I probably would have listened to the nurse in the toilets who said to give her lots of water and put her to bed, rather than calling my parents and telling them what happened.

Then again, they are my parents and I probably would have called them.

Anna's family have continued to call for zero tolerance of drugs and it has been stated elsewhere that this stance, as would have been accepted in the community in 1995 even more so than today, may have been a contributing factor to Anna's death. Those kids were scared of being in trouble with their families and with the police, even though some of them had not had anything to do with drugs, other than accompanying Anna to the nightclub.

It has made me wonder what my stance on drugs is. This is one of the reasons why I think this book works, but only if you keep your own judgement thinking cap on. I am a believer in harm minimization. I have never taken illegal drugs - I've never even smoked. I only ever drank underage twice, with my parents' consent. I would hate for other people I love to be involved in this, but I never want to leave someone without an option the way Anna's friends felt - at least, I assume they felt from reading this book.

Anyway. Plenty of information scattered around this book as a way of helping inform teenagers about risks associated with risk taking.

Part Three: Anna's death and aftermath
Using all of the accounts of the interviewees, Donaghy captured a detailed narrative of the Saturday night and Sunday morning, the last 24 hours Anna was really 'with' her friends and family. We are told of a list of people to keep away from the Woods and the hospital, and of Alice's reaction to one of Anna's friends's being minformed regarding her list status. We hear a tale of some hyper teenagers, who share ecstasy tablets, teenagers who dance to techno music and them become rapidly ill, one of whom becomes so ill that she dies due to the effect of the drug. The book refers countless times to the fact that had Anna been sent to hospital sooner, she would probably be alive. The coroner's report and other readings have not supported this claim, and I'm not sure whether that means a speedier trip to the hospital would have helped. Of course we can only speculate now, right?

It simply isn't fair.
What if Anna has said no to taking the tablet that night?
What if she had just stayed in with her family?

This isn't a bloggy book review I ever wanted to write. It's a sad, sad story.

But here's some more quick thoughts from me (adult Lisa, not teenage version) about the book.

1. Family.
I'm not a parent, and not going to lay into Anna's parents because by most accounts they were loving people who were kind and thoughtful. Obviously, we are talking about a close knit community, where people know friends of friends. I so wish that Anna had left school earlier, had been taken away from her friends or had been discouraged to see them. But teenage Lisa knows that is virtually impossible. Also, what was the deal with George? Does he really not remember promising Tony to look after his daughter? Or did it ever happen?

Following her death, Tony and Angela Wood has been outspoken on their view on drugs. Tony especially has been asked to give commentary on similar circumstances, such as his response to Annabel Catt's death in 2007.  One particular comment doesn't sit right with me, and that is the instance that Anna didn't know ecstasy was illegal, especially seeing as Anna was often told to be encouraging her friends not to take drugs and that he friends were scared of being caught. But, who am I to really know?

2. Techno music.
Or dance music, as I like to call it, is an old friend of mine.It's described in the book this way 'Techno music relies on a repetitive thudding beat. It is raucous, continuous, monotonous and loud'. Oh, my poor dance music. I am sorry you were described this way. I still want to know how Anna and her friends managed to get into the club, and why if Chloe wasn't in, how did Anna manage to know so many people in club?

This aside, clubbing, raves and the dance scene don't kill people. Drugs sometimes kill people and how people deal with drugs being in their body also sometimes kills them. Yes, perhaps I am a bit naive, however labelling music as a gateway to drugs is really not cool. Plus, Geri Haliwell said after returning from her first rave "I've found my people". I love Geri.

3. Why did Anna die?
It depends on how you want to look at it, but Anna's death was a result of water intoxication, which resulted in her brain swelling and blood being unable to travel to it. This wouldn't have happened under normal circumstances, had Anna just not taken the tablet. The book was published too soon after her death to discuss the report which you can access here.

It is sad that is story needs to be told at all. It's almost twenty years since Anna's death, and it is still being talked about. Simply do a search on Google and you'll be surprised at the result. Rest in peace sweet girl.