Annie on My Mind–Nancy Garden (1982)

FAIR WARNING–I know this book is a classic, but I just didn’t think it was all that great.  Go check out the other books I reference in this review if you want some good reading.  That’s so mean…but I just can’t help myself!

Garden, Nancy.  Annie on My Mind.  1982, Farrar Straus Giroux.  234p.  Grades 7-12.  Realistic Fiction.

High school seniors Liza and Annie meet on a “rainy Sunday” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and their fast friendship quickly becomes an intense love.  Told mostly in first-person flashbacks from Liza’s viewpoint, this novel examines the ways in which the two girls struggle with the emotional and physical realities of their relationship and the difficulties they face from society once they do come to terms with those realities.  Though their relationship is tested time and again (by friends, family, and even some of the teachers at Liza’s school), Liza and Annie continue to affirm their love for one another and that “the truth [makes] one free…whatever that truth is.”

Thoughts- It is easy to see why Annie on My Mind was such a landmark book for LGBTQ young adult readers and young adult literature as a whole—it is an overwhelmingly positive portrayal of a healthy same-sex relationship between two teens who maturely explore their emerging sexuality together, and it was the first of its kind.  Despite these positives (and the fact that I agree it is hugely important), I found myself not really caring for this novel, and I’m struggling to pinpoint exactly why.  I think it is a combination of many small things that just added up to my overall dissatisfaction.

First, I thought the pacing was off; it seemed very slow to me and the awkwardly interspersed third-person flashes of “college Liza” just interfered with any sort of narrative flow.  Second, the characters, with the exception of Annie, seemed so flat.  I can see this as being intentional on Gardner’s part—Liza’s fascination with Annie is one of the major emphases of the story—but I felt like none of the other characters, even Liza as the first-person narrator, were fleshed out at all.  Third, I had trouble with Liza as the narrator.  Her narrative voice just grated on my nerves.  I thought it was too melodramatic, too waffling…in a lot of ways, too stereotypically “teen.”  Finally, and this is a direct result of my other reading this week, I found the book extremely dated.  I also read Emily Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post this week, and it is extremely thematically similar to Annie on My Mind and is even set in the near-past (late 80s, early 90s), but I found it much more modern in tone and content.  I think I would recommend it (or Ellen Wittlinger’s Hard Love or Love and Lies) over Gardner’s book to someone looking for a book with similar themes or topics.[*]

In spite of all these criticisms, I do still see the value in Annie on My Mind, not only for its taboo-busting but also for the truth it speaks about relationships, particularly teen relationships.  First love is all-encompassing, overwhelming, exciting, scary, and filled with equal parts joy and dread, no matter what your sexuality, and I think Gardner does a really good job capturing that.  I also recognize that I am reading this from a different perspective than its intended audience; teens might be more forgiving of the melodrama than my jaded self.  Ultimately, I think the value of Gardner’s novel lies in its ground-breaking nature and the gift it has been for teens searching for answers over the past 30 years—yes, YA literature has a growing body of works dealing with LGBTQ issues, but Annie will always be the genre’s first.

[*] I also remember loving M.E. Kerr’s Night Kites when I read it in middle school (especially all the stuff about Poe), but it has been many years since then, so I’m not sure how well it holds up for current teens.


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