Becoming Anna

Becoming Anna

by Anna J. Michener

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Becoming Anna is the poignant memoir of the first sixteen years in the life of Anna Michener, a young woman who fought a painful battle against her abusive family. Labeled "crazy girl" for much of her childhood, Anna suffered physical and emotional damage at the hands of the adults who were supposed to love and protect her. Committed to various mentalSee more details below


Becoming Anna is the poignant memoir of the first sixteen years in the life of Anna Michener, a young woman who fought a painful battle against her abusive family. Labeled "crazy girl" for much of her childhood, Anna suffered physical and emotional damage at the hands of the adults who were supposed to love and protect her. Committed to various mental institutions by her family, at sixteen Anna was finally able to escape her chaotic home life and enter a foster home. As an effort toward recovery and self-affirmation as well as a powerful plea on behalf of other abused children, Anna wrote this memoir while the experience was fresh and the emotions were still raw and unhealed. Her story is a powerful tale of survival.

"A teen's raw, in-your-face chronicle of events almost as they were happening. As such, it's unforgettable. . . . Michener's story gives voice to the thousands of children and adolescents trapped in 'the system,' biding their time until their 18th birthdays. A candid and unstinting tell-all."—Kirkus Reviews

"Extraordinary. . . . Michener's expressive writing does justice to a topic that is clearly very disturbing to her personally and communicates a profoundly important message on behalf of all abused and neglected children."—Booklist

"An important book, painful to read, but essential if other children in similar situations are to be saved."—Library Journal

"An innocent child's account of 16 years in hell and of the terrible wrongs inflicted on children who are without rights or caring advocates."—Choice

"[Michener] emerges as a compelling and courageous advocate for children and their welfare—she's a young writer with an extraordinary voice."Feminist Bookstore News

"Quite simply one of the best, most compelling, well-written autobiographies published in years. . . . Remember the name. We have not heard the last of Anna Michener."—Myree Whitfield, Melbourne Herald-Sun, cover story

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Institutionalized at 15 by her abusive parents, the author, then known as "Tiffany," was abused for several months by the staff of mental hospitals. Her state-sanctioned treatment consisted of overmedication, physical and emotional intimidation, illegal incarceration and painful criticism from teachers and psychiatric counselors. At the end of that year, when she was surrendered by her mother and taken in by foster parents, Tiffany became Anna. Were this a novel, sympathy for the overwriting, self-sanctifying, pathetic narrator would run awfully thin. Other, tougher kids called her "Crazy Girl," she recalls, "In a world that had never been anything but oppressive and cruel to any of us, they thought it was crazy for me to still have some innocence, some passion, some caring for other people, and some hope for a better world. They called me crazy with affection. They wanted me to stay that way." Michener might convince readers that she is not crazy, but it's hard to accept her rosy perception of herself and the demonization of nearly every authority--and parental--figure. Her vague and predictable descriptions of the mental institutions reveal less than a few minutes with One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest: the "clients" are generally good, misunderstood; the staff, for the most part, are bad, bitter, soulless sadists. When Michener describes her preinstitutional diaries as "a rather disorganized mix of fact and fiction, and hardly anything was finished before the next page was talking about something new," she could almost be summing up the autobiography. Professional psychologists get paid to listen to desperately anxious remembrances and imaginings, but readers don't. (Sept.)
Written between the author's 16th and 17th birthdays, this is a diaristic account of growing up with an abusive family and then suffering through years in the mental health system. Michener presents her story in order to give the lie to "the idea that child abuse doesn't happen that much anymore, that genetics and biological disorders are the only other explanations for deviant behavior, and that drugs and mental institutions actually help." Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
This memoir doesnþt boast the perspective of hindsight; itþs a teenþs raw. in-your-face chronicle of events almost as they were happening. As such, itþs unforgettable. Michenerþs family of origin included a father who beat her and collected pornographic photo albums, an unstable mother who suffered from physical disease but inflicted deeper psychological wounds on her children, and a grandmother with a Ph.D. in psychology who, in a complete perversion of grandmotherly stereotypes, used to attack the author with her knitting needles. Sadly, Michenerþs story only gets worse when her parents have her committed, first to a private, then a state, mental institution. She relates one story after another of young teens who suffered from parental abuse being permanently labeled þcrazyþ and never finding help within the system. To Michener, the staff members at the mental hospital seemed far more sadistic and deranged (Nurse Ratchet types) than the patients. For the first few months, she was overmedicated, unable to walk without clutching the wall. For small infractions, patients would be kept in a urine-drenched solitary confinement cell. When Michener was 16, her mother temporarily released her from the mental hospital, and before she could be committed again, the girl moved away and became the ward of her best friendþs grandparents, who hired a lawyer and sued for custody. Michener (her adopted last name) notes in the epilogue that what bothers her most about her story is that its happy ending is purely accidental: þI simply lucked out. I had . absolutely no say in my own fate, and this is true of all children in thiscountry.þ Michenerþs story gives voice to the thousands of children and adolescents trapped in þthe system,þ biding their time until their 18th birthdays. A candid and unstinting tell-all.

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Becoming Anna

The Autobiography of a Sixteen-Year-Old

By Anna J. Michener

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003

University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-226-52401-9

Chapter One

When the elevator door opened again, the first thing I saw was a bare
wall across from me. On the right was a large blue metal door. The sight
of it, the strange feeling that it gave me, made the little hairs on the
back of my neck stand up.

To my left was a long hall that stretched an equal distance in both
directions from where I was standing. In the middle of this hall was a
counter not unlike the drive-through counter at a bank. Dr. Burns led me
silently to this counter and spoke a few words to a woman behind it.

Then he left me.

The woman came out and led me down the left side of the hall to the very
end. I never got a good look at her. I guess I didn't really care at
that point. I was on the verge of collapse from the terror I was holding
inside me with my arms.

At the end of the hall was a door with a rectangular, wire-embedded
window in it. The woman unlocked this door and ushered me in, saying,
"This is your room."

Then she was gone.

I stood silently. My heart thumped against my throat and I was trembling
all over.

The room contained a cheap desk and chair set, a locked wardrobe, anda
metal bedframe with the flimsiest mattress I had ever seen. The walls
were thick and bare except for a picture called At Harbor's Edge, which
was bolted to the wall and covered in Plexiglas, and a small rectangular
window right under the ceiling in back. The curtains were a revolting
mix of Halloween colors, and the thin excuse for a carpet was just

I continued to stand numbly just inside this uninviting room until I was
so shaky and light-headed that I couldn't stand anymore. Then I went
timidly to the metal bed and sat down.

I realized that I was shaking not only from emotion, but from the
temperature as well. It was spring outside, and warm, but in that room
it was freezing cold. I certainly hadn't expected that, and as I sat
there in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, goosebumps spread across my
bare flesh, and my teeth rattled.

After a long debate with myself as to whether I should, I stood on the
bed to study the window above me. All that could be seen out of it was a
building to the left, a building to the right, the roof of a building
below, and a little piece of unreachable blue sky sandwiched in between.
I discovered that I could not open the window because it had not been
built to open. I almost cried, because it had been the only way I could
think of to obtain a little warmth. Also, I saw that the window was made
of thick Plexiglas instead of glass. What kind of a person did they
think I was to put me in a room with a "window" that could not be opened
or broken?

As I sank back down on the bed, I wished more than anything else in the
world that I had brought something, anything, familiar and comforting
with me. I had been left in that place with nothing but the clothes I
was wearing.

I didn't even have a watch, but I knew it had been at least an hour.
Wasn't anything more going to happen? I could take anything but nothing!
Had I been forgotten?

I got up and peered cautiously out the door, which I had never bothered
to close. Maybe I was not supposed to close the door here, as I was not
supposed to close the door at home.

All there was was that hall. No one, no sign of anyone, not even a
sound. I went back to the bed and sat with my arms wrapped tightly
around my knees. I was baffled. Except for my three-hour escape, I had
been watched continuously for I wasn't sure how long, because I was
supposedly crazy. If this was a place for crazy people, why was no one
watching me?

Then it occurred to me that perhaps a place like this had more
sophisticated techniques for monitoring "crazy" people than just sitting
around them all the time. Maybe this room was bugged, or had a hidden
camera. Maybe they had even secretly hooked me up to a machine that
could read my mind, like that kid in Flight of the Navigator!

I eyed my surroundings with feverish terror, my heart beating even more
rapidly. Somehow the idea of being monitored by hidden machines was more
humiliating and horrible than having a person sit and stare at me (not
that that was a joy either).

It was at least another hour before I heard voices in the hall, the
first I had heard since the woman had said, "This is your room." I
froze, trying to distinguish what the voices were saying. I wanted to
look out into the hall and see who they belonged to, but I was afraid to
leave the room where I had been put, or even poke my head out again.
Soon the voices were gone, and I sat even more frightened that I had
either been forgotten or was being monitored in a way that would never
allow human contact again.

It was about half an hour before I heard the voices again. And this time
they seemed just a little nearer.

I was straining my ears when all of a sudden a girl appeared in my open
doorway. She was just an average-looking girl in a T-shirt and jeans
with medium-length brown hair. She stopped and looked a little startled
at the sight of me.

I had been perched on the edge of the bed, locked in the same tense
position, for over an hour, shaking in spasms of cold and terror. My
eyes must have been as round and frightened as a wild rabbit's.

And the girl said, "Hi, I'm Sandy. Are you new here?"

Sandy was a bit on the chubby side and rather plain, but
pleasant-looking. I was so desperately relieved to see another human
being that I couldn't think of a response.

"You look real scared," she noted. "Is this your first place? Don't
worry though. This place sucks but you'll get used to it." She paused,
cocked her head to study me, and continued knowingly, "You're kinda
small, and pretty. I used to have long hair like yours."

I still couldn't say anything. My throat was dry and my mind numb with
shock. I just kept staring at her as if I'd never seen a person before.

It didn't seem to bother her that she was having a one-sided
conversation because she just went right along, "Don't be scared, some
staff's you gotta watch out for but most are real nice and they'll take
you outside and stuff ... Oh! Just remember ..."

Sandy stepped closer to me, into the room, and lowered her voice to tell
me a secret,

"Never tell them you wanna kill yourself because you'd get in deep shit
then, let me tell you ..."


I jumped as a male voice shouted down the hall, and then I heard
footsteps coming toward us.

"Why are you in another patient's room and what was that word I just
heard you say? You know the rules! Go to Time Out! Now!"

Sandy muttered and went away. A few seconds later the man was in my
doorway. He barked at me just as angrily as he had at Sandy, "My name is
Biff. I am a staff member. Follow me."

I followed him, silently, nervously, trembling. He had a big pot belly
that hung over his belt and black hair and steel-blue eyes that held no
emotion. He led me down the hall to a room labeled "Dining Room."

Inside there was a cafeteria-like bar and four small tables. I was given
a tray and motioned to sit at one of those tables, all empty at the
time. Biff sat across from me and glared at me.

Of course I could not eat a bite. I simply sat stunned in my chair,
unable to even cry. After a terribly uncomfortable silence, I ventured
to whisper, "I don't like it here." It was the first thing I had said
since I had come to the ward, hours and hours ago. My throat was raw and
my voice sounded strange in the empty, quiet room. I stared up at Biff,
waiting for an explanation or an acknowledgment of some mistake.

And do you know what he said? He looked me straight in the eye and told
me, "Well, you should have been good and you wouldn't be here."

There was nothing I could say to that. I just stared at this person who
had met me all of five minutes ago and could say such a thing. At last
he told me to put my tray away and said something about how "stubborn
little kids don't get away with refusing to eat around here." Then Biff
called to a woman down the hall to get me some "stuff."

The woman led me to a very large closet in the hall and handed me two
sheets and a thin pillow with a pillowcase. She asked if I had anything
with me. I said no, and she handed me a small jar of lotion, Kleenex, a
toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, and two hospital gowns, explaining
that I could put one on backwards to cover my rear.

I was rather horrified at the prospect of sleeping in hospital gowns,
and I asked why I couldn't sleep in my clothes. The woman gave me a
disgusted look and said that it was against the rules for patients to
sleep in their clothes.

She said it was also against the rules for patients to walk around
barefoot, and she handed me some fuzzy blue socks. I was told to come
back in the morning and get a towel and washcloth and soap for a shower.
Then I went back to the room that had been assigned to me.

I hadn't liked the way that woman said "patients."

Sandy walked by my door and said, "Good night, new girl," and that made
me feel a little better. She seemed quite nice.

I got ready for bed in a tiny room with a toilet and sink situated
between my room and the room next to mine. I folded my clothes so that
no one could see my underwear and put them on the chair. I made up the
metal bed, turned out the lights, and crawled between the sheets.

I lay freezing cold in the dark, on that strange and terribly
uncomfortable bed, and I still could not cry. The light in the hall was
left on all night, and it streamed through the wire-embedded window in
my door.

I thought of my bear and my doll sitting at home on my bed where I had
left them. I thought of my bed. It was warm, with flowered sheets and a
quilt and a comforter. As I shivered under those thin, sterile-smelling
hospital nightgowns and one thin, sterile-smelling sheet, I ached for my
familiar and cozy bedclothes and companions.

I then thought of my Opie, my guinea pig. I could not think of a time
when I had not said good night to him. Would anyone feed him? Did he
miss me? Oh, how I missed him! The smell of his pine chips and clean
fur-even his ceaseless chattering and rattling his cage in the
night-seemed ever so dear to me then. I tried to close my eyes and
imagine him in the room with me. But it didn't work. The odor of
cleaning fluid and stuffiness was too strong, and the silence all around
was too loud.

My stomach gurgled for lack of food, and my chest ached for lack of more
important things. My muscles, especially my jaw muscles, were hurting
from being tensed against the day's events and the cold. I pulled my icy
fists against my body. It was little comfort that my family also sat at
home and I was the hell away from them. I wanted something to hold onto,

I thought of what Biff had said: "You should have been good. And you
wouldn't be here."

Then being here has nothing to do with being crazy. It has to do with
being bad!

Unless, of course, being crazy is bad.

But I am neither one, am I? AM I? What is wrong with me if I am crazy?
What did I do if I am bad?

I grabbed my pillow and began to sob at last, to release only a small
portion of the terror and pain and frustration that was too deep to
purge myself of completely in a lifetime. Tears and mucus soaked my
pillowcase, so I turned the pillow over and soaked the other side.

I was so exhausted that I thought I might be able to sleep for a while.
But then I heard my door opening, and saw a light dancing on the wall in
front of me. I rolled over to see what was happening.

Someone was standing in my doorway in the middle of the night with a
flashlight! The person called stiffly, "Tiffany? You need-to sleep-with
your door-open-so we can check-on you-at night-do you understand,

I blinked at the form in the doorway, not understanding why it would
talk to me that way and wondering how I was supposed to answer. It
didn't care about an answer anyway; it just backed away.

How does this strange person know my name? What other information went
along with it? And how can I get any sleep with the door open and all
this light in the room? At least when I didn't even have a door, it was
dark in the hall.

I rolled over and put my flat pillow over my eyes. I couldn't cry
anymore with the door open, knowing that someone might see or hear me. A
person came with a flashlight every two hours and looked in at me for
some reason, I didn't know what. I did, however, manage a few hours of
troubled sleep that night. I had been so deprived of it that I don't
think anything could have kept me from it.

I was awakened for the final time at seven in the morning by a very fat
woman wearing a white coat and carrying a clipboard. She burst into my
room and flicked all my lights on.

"Good morning, Tiffy. You're going to get up now."

She had the biggest, fakest smile that I had ever seen in my life. I
could not tell whether her eyebrows were completely drawn in or just
plucked really thin. They nearly blended with her hairline.

I was horrified and embarrassed to be facing a fully dressed stranger in
nothing but two hospital gowns, the shape of my naked and shivering body
quite visible beneath. I groped desperately for the sheet as my
sleep-encrusted eyes attempted to regain their vision in the sudden

She was the second person to use my name without asking me what it was

Where do these people get it? I can make a wild guess-they ask my
parents. Just the way one asks the name of a dog from its master because
dogs can't speak for themselves.

The fat woman gave me no time to orient myself before she gathered her
coat in her hands and plopped herself down on the end of my bed. I was
humiliated to think of how messy my hair must be and how I needed to
brush my teeth.

"How are you this morning?" she wanted to know.

I wanted to push this obscene woman away with all my might and shout,

Instead, I offered as civilly as I could through chattering teeth,
"Well, I'm freezing cold."


Excerpted from Becoming Anna
by Anna J. Michener
Copyright © 2003 by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Richard Rhodes
Sixteen-year-olds who write brilliant, original books are rare as war heroes—and usually also battle-scarred. Anna Michener's war was neglect, abuse and unjust incarceration in mental hospitals. Out of that house of fire emerges a soaring young spirit and a powerful new voice.
— (Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author ofThe making of the Atomic Bomb and A Hole in the World

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