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Sunday, January 15, 2012

After the Death of Anna Gonzales, written by Terri Fields. Henry Holt and Company, 2002. $19.95 ages 12 and up

" spite of the pills and the pain,
In spite of the surgeries and suffering,
He chose life.

And you, Anna, who had health,
Chose death.

How could you?"

Kathleen Hays is only one voice. She had a nine-year-old brother who battled cancer for two years, taking treatments and enduring surgeries before succumbing to his second, harder fight. Tough for her to understand, yes; but, did she know Anna?

There are 5 adults and 42 students whose responses are shared in this free verse novel about teen suicide. Many of them did not know Anna, and their reactions to her death provide a glimpse at their thinking when they hear the news. Often harsh and unfeeling, and perhaps even stereotypical, they seem honest to me.  

Regular daily announcements are made prior to the principal breaking the news:

"Words caught in unwilling voice.

'I am sorry to tell you of the death
of one of our students.'

Must continue.
Rumors always worse than truth,

'Anna Gonzales took her life last night.
Our sympathies to her family and friends.
Grief counselors will be available all day.'

Robotlike move off camera."

Without Anna, life in her high school goes on. Sports are played and classes continue. Some students  haven't heard the news, and their personal concerns are voiced ahead of any reaction to the principal's announcement. Some weren't listening and react to the quiet that has suddenly fallen. Some have memories of Anna in their classes, working together; and some are not even sure they know who she was:

"Anna seemed normal enough,
But how much can one know
When working together to conjugate
The present tense of hablar?"

A girl whose father committed suicide has a question for Anna:

"So, Anna,  did you know
That when you kill yourself
Those you say you love,
They die too?"

Free verse glimpses of  diversity in a high school setting and finally, the note from Anna that explains the choice she made:

"Never pretty or popular enough to matter.
Never outrageous or outstanding enough
to get attention.
Sometimes, I have to pinch myself to make certain
that I am even real."

I think this would make a powerful and enlightening reader's theatre, or performance piece for a drama class.

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