Michener, Anna J. Becoming Anna: The Autobiography of a Sixteen-Year-Old. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1998.
I didn't know if I'd be able to read this book. Once I finished Chapter 1, I had to really think if I wanted to go down this dark road. The writing is beautiful, full of vivid imagery--the content is horrific.
Young Tiffany Blake is admitted to a mental institution by her family. Her grandmother, a PhD in child psychology, inflicts verbal abuse on Tiffany, blaming her for all of the family's problems, including Tiffany's mother's diabetes. The first sentence of the book reads, "My grandmother says I destroyed my mother before I was even born" (Michener 1). Thanks, Grams!
In fact, from the outside her family looks "normal." "People who knew my grandmother and my parents casually, liked them. All three were intelligent, well educated, and knew how to hold interesting conversations. They could be friendly when they wanted to be" (Michener 9). They are nice when it is convenient or looks good to the outside world.
She spends 47 days at a private institution. She returns home only to be shipped off to a worse (if possible!) place called Wilson State Hospital. There, Tiffany does try to get along with others and make friends until finally, she snaps a little and begins to stand up for herself and others. She sees the injustice and unfairness inflicted upon her and her ward mates. She's had enough. Of course, in a perfect catch-22, her outbursts further "prove" to others that she is crazy.
I flagged so many pages in this book. The descriptions are vivid. Tiffany's encounters with adults are heartbreaking. She is believed when she tells lies and not believed when she's telling the truth. "If my only friend's parents, one of them a victim of abuse herself, couldn't help me, then I could think of nothing short of suicide to save me from years of endless, steadily worsening misery" (Michener 17). She does try to overdose on pills right in front of her family. "They just laughed" (Michener 32.). HOW CAN THEY BE SO CRUEL?
Tiffany writes, "I can describe in this book all the horrible things that were said and done to me, but I can never even begin to describe the true horror of mental institutions, the never-ending, sanity-stripping monotony, the subliminal implications of this endless routine and always having some hateful stranger watching you endure it, or perhaps be driven mad by it, whichever the case might be" (Michener 38).
There are so many examples.
While reading, I kept thinking about a kid I worked with when I was a teenager. Kyle had been to rehab (something my naive world didn't know about), and I wondered as I read Tiffany's story if Kyle's experiences at rehab were similar to Tiffany's at the mental institution. I don't know why I kept thinking of Kyle, but if he is still alive, I hope he's doing well.
Becoming Anna was a book that was hard to read, but I think I needed to read it. I was so happy when I read page 249! This made the entire book worth reading. Surprisingly, it is in the epilogue that I learned how Tiffany became Anna. Yet, I had to travel down her road because I wouldn't have understood (and appreciated) Anna's story any other way.