It's tempting to scoff at the idea of presidential party girl Jenna Bush writing a book, but her first effort is surprisingly well-done. Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope is a biography of a 17-year-old single mother in Latin America infected with HIV. Bush met Ana, whose real name and hometown are concealed, while working as an intern for the United Nations Children's Fund.
Ana has a story worth telling. Her life has been a struggle with poverty, abuse, and prejudice. Her mother and aunt were raped by their stepfather, who infected them with HIV. Ana's mother, father, and infant sister died of AIDS before she finished sixth grade. Only her other younger sister, Isabel, escaped the disease.
Ana learns to keep her illness quiet at a young age. 'Life's not fair,' her grandmother warns her. 'If you tell, you'll be treated badly. People will call you bad, ugly names. They will be afraid of you.' And Ana believes her grandmother after watching her friends taunt a skinny classmate.
Her home life, though, is perhaps more painful than the disease. Both Ana and her sister are raped by their grandmother's boyfriend. After their father dies, their grandmother beats Ana until the girls are removed from her home and shuttled among relatives and orphanages.
Bush became known during her father's first term in the White House for underage drinking while a student at the University of Texas at Austin. She graduated with a degree in English and taught elementary school in Washington, D.C., for a year and a half before signing on with UNICEF. She recently made news again by announcing her engagement to Henry Hager, who gets a thank-you in the book's acknowledgments.
Perhaps because of the scrutiny Bush herself has faced, she recounts Ana's choices without judgment. Bush describes a loving relationship between Ana and the HIV-positive teen who fathers her daughter. She portrays Ana's decision to end that relationship as part of her evolution into an adult who must consider her daughter's welfare. Her boyfriend, Ana reflects, seemed more interested in her than their daughter, more interested in being a boyfriend than a father.
The most unsatisfying aspect of Bush's work is that it ends with many loose threads: Ana has not finished school or found work, her sister is still in an orphanage, she must tell her new boyfriend about her HIV infection. Bush addresses some of these points in an afterword, but as she notes, 'Ana's story is still being written.'
Another notable feature of the book is its easy reading level. Although Ana's Story is being promoted heavily, it is not really designed for adults or advanced readers. Rather, it targets students and teachers with a study guide and several reference sections.
Bush describes her writing as a 'mosaic' of Ana's life with chapters of only a couple hundred words pieced together 'to create an image of her past and a framework for her future.' It works well for youngsters, but readers used to more literary writing may find it too simple.
That may not matter, however, since Bush's interest seems to lie with young audiences. She is already collaborating on an illustrated children's book with her mother, first lady Laura Bush. (AP)