Ana’s Story offers hope against all odds

Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush; published by HarperCollins, New York, 2007; 290 pages.

While documenting the lives of children in Central America, Jenna Bush met Ana.  So taken by her courageous resilience, Jenna spent months interviewing the teenager.  The result is this work of narrative non-fiction.  Ana’s story could be set in any country, with children of every race, and that is why Ms. Bush chose to publish the story.  Ana’s early childhood was marked by profound loss: first, a baby sister, then her mother and then her father all died from HIV/AIDS.  As if that wasn’t enough tragedy for one child, Ana soon learned that she was also infected.  While living with her grandmother, she and her younger sister were raped by their grandmother’s live-in boyfriend.  Physical abuse followed Ana from her grandmother’s house to the home of her aunt.  She finally tried to escape the abuse but ended up in a reformatory.  There she met Berto, a young man living with HIV/AIDS; when he transferred to a home for AIDS patients, he arranges for Ana to join him there.  Ana relishes the family-like atmosphere but she cannot stay after she gets pregnant.  Remarkably, motherhood brings Ana the strength to stand up for herself and find a better life for herself and her baby.  The book ends with the disclaimer that Ana’s life is a work in progress so the story cannot have a pat ending.

I found the book on the brink of being patronizingly simplified.  The brief chapters, sometimes no longer than a paragraph, were off-putting.  Some of the vocabulary was ill-chosen, maybe making a horrific situation palatable.  However, when I consider that the audience for this book should be the children and young adults that are in similar situations of sexual and physical abuse, I think the book is intended as a high interest-low vocabulary offering.

Two aspects of this book pleasantly surprised me.  First, the exhaustive resources that round out the volume are impressive.  Opportunities to find help are offered to those in abusive situations.  But what impressed me were the resources for readers who know of someone in a similar situation, or for those who are moved by Ana’s story.  I strongly urge all librarians to include this book in resources about abuse, incest, rape, bullying and similar acts of violence against teens.

Secondly, the photographs by Mia Baxter added impact to Bush’s sometimes simple text.  Much of the despair of Ana’s early situation is depicted in the images, but Baxter’s photos also hinted at hope through color and the capture of celebrations.  A deeper understanding of life in impoverished Central America can be garnered in each image.  These photos could stand alone, but in this case they enhance the story, telling part of Ana’s story that Bush’s words can’t convey.

3P     4Q (for a specific audience)     Grade Level: 7-12

AnasStoryCover Art: The partial profile of “Ana” and the bright red, sweeping font on the white cover will generate interest for males and females alike.  The same font, in red, on the white spine also stood out on the shelves; I was browsing and spotted it right away and decided to read it.

From Reading List: Too Good to Be True Nonfiction

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