As a teenager, Sue Mayfield was one of my favourite novelists. Around the age of fourteen I developed and addiction to Young Adult novels that dealt with mental health problems such as self-harm and eating disorders, as well as those that dealt with the difficulties of adjusting to being a teenager. (I’m 22 and I still love Young Adult novels. I’m pretty sure that YA runs until at least your 40s).
Blue is a book that I have read a million and one times, and every time I read it, I still cry at this one moment. I read it for the first time aged 14, as I moved to Yorkshire and started a new school in a new and unfamiliar town. The “trigger” event of the book is the protagonist being aged 14, moving to Yorkshire and starting a new school in a new and unfamiliar town. Although there is no specified town that the book is set in, the book was actually conceived from a workshop that Mayfield did with a group of teenagers from The Crossley Heath School, which just so happens to be in Halifax, the very same town that I was moving to, and knowing this little snippet of information about the novel influenced the way in which I perceived events and imagined different locations. (I went to The Brooksbank School, in case you were wondering). The similarities between our two lives basically end there.
The book is about bullying, and this is something that I am passionately against. As soon as I can make the training I will be a fully trained BeatBullying LGBT+ Life Mentor which will enable me to help people online who are experiencing bullying.
What happens to the novel’s protagonist Anna can be described as nothing but bullying, but the image of bullying that we are so often faced with is not this. She is immediately befriended by Hayley, who then abandons her, and manipulates others around her to do the same. It is so far from what is presented as bullying that in one section, though something that must be excruciatingly painful for Anna is happening in a classroom, the teacher is oblivious to the point at which she encourages it. I always read this and think, If I ever become a secondary English teacher, I will challenge all such events, but then, maybe it is possible to be a good teacher and in touch with your students and still not notice this.
I mentioned at the top of this post that my YA obsession was not vampires, like my peers, but mental health, and I have yet to mention how his fits in.
Though not explicitly mentioned (aside from a snide comment) it is clear that Anna is suffering from an eating disorder. She pushes her food around her plate without eating anything, she takes only an apple for lunch, and she lies about how much she has eaten. If I see a friend show these signs, I worry and make sure to mention something. Self harm is addressed as such and this is the point at which I cannot stop myself from getting emotional. The book opens with an attempt at suicide, and ends ambiguously. We do not know if she survives. What we do know, however, is far more important.
In two years, a girls life can be ruined. She can go from being a high achieving, confident young woman to being shy, withdrawn and driven to a point of desperation. The multiple narrators are what cleverly convey emotion into the reader. The three narrators are Melanie (Anna’s friend), Anna (through her diary entries and letters) and a third person narrator. Melanie’s story runs parallel to Anna’s diary entries, and the third person narrates everything that is happening in the present that Melanie isn’t present for. The way that the first chapter is narrated especially takes you with Anna as she goes into the kitchen, collects her mother’s antidepressants and reaches to the back of the cupboard for the vodka going upstairs to collect her writing materials and shutting herself in the bathroom. You just know what is happening without it being explicit. This is a sign of a good writer. It does not begin “It was a Friday and Anna had arrived home from school earlier than normal, that was because today she had decided to end her life”. Instead Mayfield lets us live this trauma with Anna, Melanie, Frances and the rest of the characters. And one of the other signs that Mayfield exhibits here to demonstrate that she is on top of her craft: there are very few characters. I did not require any ounce of brainpower trying to keep track of all the different people that entered my life in the two hours I moved from cover to cover.
Mayfield is a top writer and for anyone looking for any kind of Young Adult novel I would definitely recommend her. She kept me company during my GCSE and AS Level years, and I hope she can do the same for others!