Wednesday, May 11, 2011

YA Book Review: Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
- an old and well-read library copy!
Annie On My Mind is a sweet coming out and coming of age story that has landed fairly solidly on the lists of young adult classics. It was published in 1982 and has received a number of 'best book' awards from the ALA and Young Adult library organisations. It's also solidly in the middle of the top 100 banned/censored/challenged books lists through the decades! Amazingly, it has never been out of print since being published.

It's dated fairly well, although the fact that homosexuality is an issue - the issue - does date it. Otherwise, apart from a few place names, and a possibly historical trend for tiny private schools and drugs and violence to be rife in public schools., it doesn't feel thirty years old.

The story is told from inside the head of Liza, a well off, by-the-book seventeen year old in Manhattan, as she tries to write a letter to Annie from college and looks back over the events of that time. Liza's passion is (and always was) for architecture, and she meets Annie in a  museum, drawn by her singing. Annie is a withdrawn and imaginative girl and the two mesh perfectly, slipping easily into the roles of knight and lady and discovering new magic in the gardens and museums of New York together.
Annie goes to a public school and intends to go to Berkeley, while Liza is a private school Student President, living in the better part of Manhattan. Over time, they inevitably grow closer, and closer, and at last Liza discovers she's gay, something she never really considered. Annie had been hoping, and worrying for weeks! Then follows shyness and awkwardness as they grow closer and yet further apart - until they decide they really, really do love each other.

Annie on My Mind
Annie on My Mind
25th Anniversary
When they're accidentally outed, things turn nasty - not so much at home, as Liza's family are upset and confused, but generally supportive - but at Liza's school, Foster's. The rigid and reactionary Mrs. Poindexter and her pious and prying secretary, Ms. Baxter combine forces to ensure moral perfectionism in the behaviour of their charges. Mrs. Poindexter especially identifies with Fosters and is determined that nothing should harm its future or its fundraising chances and is quite unreasonable about this - something that is noticed, and loses her her job as head mistress.

Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer are an unnoticed part of the background in the first half, and cat-sitting for them gives the girls a chance to be together. By the end of the book, they are outed themselves to the school - and are the main target of Ms. Baxter's prying, losing their jobs as teachers at Fosters. They are a solid and reassuring guide to Annie and Liza, dishing out some grown-up words of wisdom along the lines of 'it gets better' and demonstrating by their existence that there is hope.

Overall it's a nice book, and it all comes right in the end. It's suitable for teenagers, as it's easy to read, looks at two seventeen year olds, touches on sex without being explicit and is generally a positive, enchanting book about two imperfect girls falling perfectly in love and having to deal with that.

Awards for Annie on My Mind

  •  ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults (1970–1983)
  • School Library Journal - one of One Hundred Books That Shaped the Century
  •  Booklist Reviewer's Choice (1982)
  • ALA Best Books (1982)
  • Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement (YALSA, part of ALA, 2003)
  • Nominated for Gay Book Award (now the Stonewall Book Awards) and the Golden Kite Award

Other Lesbian Books by Nancy Garden

If you are looking for more books like Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden has written several other young adult books, many of which deal with GLBT issues. See here for an overview of Nancy Garden and her lesbian-themed books.

Annie on My Mind also mentions several landmark lesbian books by name.

Patience & Sarah (Little Sister's Classics)
Patience & Sarah
by Isabel Miller
Patience & Sarah is a lesbian love story Annie lends Liza (after Liza found an encyclopaedia entry terribly unreassuring), and was the very first recipient of a Stonewall Book Award (back when it was known as the 'Gay Book Award').

The girls also find several books hidden in Ms. Stevenson & Ms. Widmers' bookcase, all of them classic lesbian literature: 

Further Reading

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