Nov 13, 2010

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind was originally published in 1982, and it was one of the first YA novels to portray gay characters in a positive light. Some of you recommended it to my after my less than thrilling experience with Empress of the World earlier this year; I had the chance to pick up a used copy recently and shortly thereafter noticed that the lovely Amy at Amy Reads had just acquired it as well. We therefore decided to read and review it together: I’ll be incorporating some questions Amy asked me into this post, and over at her blog Amy will be doing the same with the questions I asked her.

Annie on My Mind is the story of Liza and Annie, two high school seniors from New York who meets by chance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Liza and Annie feel attracted to each other immediately, which comes as a bit of a surprise to Liza because she never considered she might like girls that way. This realisation isn’t what the novel is about, though; Annie on My Mind is about the development of their relationship and about the one thing – only hinted at in the beginning – that nearly drives them apart.

Amy asked me, “How did you like the way the story was told, as the main character flashing back?”. Annie on My Mind actually begins one year after Liza meets Annie: Liza is now studying architecture at MIT, and debating writing a letter to Annie but struggling to get the words out. I was quite happy with the flashback structure – I liked how it added emotional resonance to Liza’s narration, and I liked how knowing something big was coming kept me turning the pages. However, I found the third person interludes between Liza’s first person flashbacks pretty awkward, to be honest, and I could have easily done without them. But at least these were both short and few and far between, so they didn’t bother me too much. And just so you know, this is pretty much my only complaint about the whole novel.

Amy’s next question was, ”Reading the book you know something is going to happen because of how the letters go. Were you surprised at what it was that caused the issue when it is finally revealed?”. Without giving it away, I can say that yes, I was surprised. I was expecting a version of what most often happens in glbtq YA (and to real glbtq teens, sadly): family shenanigans. It’s not a spoiler to say that Liza and Annie are separated because of other people’s reactions to their being gay, but there’s an interesting twist in how this happens.

Something that comes into play in what happens is social privilege: Liza is the daughter of an upper middle-class family and goes to an exclusive private school, whereas Annie’s family lives in a tiny apartment in a shabby building and she goes to a school where social problems run rampant. It was interesting to see the difference in how these two very distinct social worlds react to homosexuality. Annie never does tell her parents and grandmother, but in Liza’s world, the matter of keeping up appearances is a heavy factor. Also, it was saddening (though not surprising) to see her seemingly liberal parents’ attitudes change when confronting homosexuality in the concrete rather than the abstract. Sadly I can’t say much more than this without giving the whole story away, for which I apologise!

Finally, Amy also wanted to know what my favourite part of the book was. It’s actually really hard to pick just one, as there was so much I loved about this sort novel. I loved the bit where Liza and Annie read Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller and realise that there are other lesbian couples out there. I also loved (again, this will be vague to prevent spoilers) how Garden dealt with the whole issue of the public and the private when it comes to gay couples – the people who react to Liza and Annie’s relationship negatively do so by reducing it to a “sexual perversion”, and therefore they feel entitled to both scrutinize their sexual lives as if they had no right whatsoever to privacy, and to act as if they had no feelings for each other beyond “lust”. This is something you see a lot in how homophobes portray homosexuality, and it upsets me beyond belief. Garden did such a great job of exposing and denouncing this kind of discourse in a way that is impossible to ignore but feels completely natural to the story.

On a related note, I loved how Annie on My Mind dealt with the whole issue of passion. Obviously physical passion is not what Liza and Annie’s relationship is all about, but it is a part of it, and they have the right to feel it and to experience it. But because they are not only gay but also teen girls, in their case the abjection that often surrounds same-sex sexuality only adds to the abjection surrounding female sexuality in general. The inevitable result is plenty of awkwardness and misery and reluctance until they’re ready to even talk about it. As I was reading this novel, I kept remembering something Renay once said about lesbian characters in literature lacking passion so often. I think this is part of the reason why, and I love that Nancy Garden addressed it and made it one of the novel’s main themes, while at the same time portraying the passion her characters do feel underneath all that awkwardness very well indeed.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I highly recommend Annie on My Mind. It has aged extremely well and has none of the dated feel you sometimes find in older YA. And it’s a beautiful and powerful story, which (in some ways unfortunately) remains very relevant today.

They read it too: The Lesbrary, Book Maven’s Blog, Reading Rants!

(Have I missed yours?)

30 comments:

  1. This sounds like a very good read. I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't read a lot of GLBT books. This sounds like one with which I could very well start :) Now, 20 more minutes to compare yours and Amy's review..

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  2. Oops - I posted mine early! Hopefully nobody else will notice :P I do think this would be a great one to start with, Iris!

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  3. I (nearly) always think throwing class into the mix makes things fascinating. It is a cool complicating factor.

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  4. Yay! This is one of my favorite LGBT fics as I feel it portrays a realistic relationship path and is timeless.

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  5. I like the cover you've got here much better than the one Amy linked to (which looks more like the 80s version).

    Like I said on Amy's blog, this sounds like something I'd really like to read, but I'm worried about it because 80s books - 80s books in NYC in particular - often address drugs quite heavily, or at least are filled with casual drug references, and you know how much of a phobia I have of that. I recently tried to read a Persephone book published in the early 80s and had to quit after 40 pages because of that sort of thing. I just can't deal with it.

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  6. I'm fascinated by Liza's parents shutting down when they encounter homosexuality in the concrete. I'm really glad this book has aged well; queer teens always need more literature about what they're dealing with. (And I love the idea of Liza and Annie discovering, in fiction, that there are other couples like them out there–rereading Emma, I was utterly delighted to find that I could read her as asexual.)

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  7. Ooooooohhhh great review and answers!!! It seems we thought pretty similar things about the book and similar parts! I really liked the garden scene too. And you are right that the class aspect was also really interesting. Thanks for doing this with me :)

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  8. This is my first exposure to this novel -- I love the way you've described it and it sounds like it made important headway.

    These topics were definitely not part of children's literature when I was young. We didn't even have a category called YA. You went from kids' books to adult books all in one giant step.

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  9. I read Deliver Us from Evie not too long ago, and it really sparked my interest in presentations of teen homosexuality. It's so interesting to see the changing representation, so thanks for the suggestion!

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  10. I think one of the reasons I enjoy Annie On My Mind so much is a moment that you mention--when they read Patience and Sarah together. In one brief scene Garden shows how important books with fictional lesbian characters can be to actual lesbians. Very exciting! haha

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  11. Jenny: I agree! (Also: hi! :P)

    Christina: I thought so too!

    Amanda: You guessed right, there *are* drug references. But it's more about students selling pot at Annie's school than anything more specific about drug usage.

    Clare: And sadly it's so easy for those of us who don't find that a part of our identity is pretty much invisible in literature to forget how very important that is.

    Amy, thank *you*! I love buddy reviews and hadn't done one since Will Grayson with Renay, so I missed them :P

    Beth F: I can very well imagine this being life-changing for glbtq teens at a time when it was pretty much all it existed!

    Trisha: It really is interesting! I wonder if anyone has written a dissertation on the topic yet :P

    Cass: That bit was so awesome! Needless to say, I now need to read Patience and Sarah.

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  12. I read this in the late 1980s when I was in college--and it was absolutely transformative. I'm so glad to be reminded of this book!

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  13. I've not heard of Annie on My Mind before reading your review. I agree with some of the other commenters--it sounds wonderful! Like Iris, I've not read many GLBT books. I am on the lookout for ones that are recommended, so I will put Annie on My Mind on my list! I'm glad you liked it and took the time to write a thoughtful, convincing review.

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  14. This was one of my favorite books when I was younger. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Now I want to re-read it!

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  15. This sounds phenomenal, Ana!! Thanks so much for telling me about it as I've never heard about it before! And it sounds like something that will mean a lot to me :) Looking forward to reading it.

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  16. I just reserved this one after reading about it on Amy's blog. Glad to read your portion of the review too!

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  17. Never ehard of this one and since it was published int he early 80's it is certianly a sort of barrier breaker. People didn;t talk about these issues back then. I will keep this one in mind the next time I am at the library.

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  18. Ana, Patience and Sarah is awful*. But if you read it, I will give you a cookie.

    *2/2 of the people in the room I am in agree. HOWEVER like most other books other people like it, so I won't dismiss it entirely. ;)

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  19. I have not read Annie on My Mind yet, but have heard good things about it. After reading your post I feel I simply have to include it into my TBR list. :)

    Greetings,
    Tiina

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  20. LifetimeReader: I can imagine - especially at a time when there was so little else of this kind out there!

    Erin, I'm glad to have convinced you! I hope you'll enjoy the book.

    Vasilly: Do! I bet you'll find it every bit as good as you remember :)

    Chris: You'll love it for sure!

    Stephanie: Enjoy!

    Jenny Girl: I'm so glad there's so much more glbtq YA lit out there now!

    Cass: Well, now I want to do it for the cookie ;)

    Tiina: I really think you'll enjoy it! (Between the two of us, it's everything Empress of the World failed to be :P)

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  21. Whenever I buy a book on a whim at a used book sale, and then I see the book get a glowing review on blogs I trust, like your blog, I feel affirmed in making that purchase.

    So thank you Ana for affirming my purchase of Annie On My Mind. I shall have to read it in 2011! :-) I'm a big fan of retro-YA, especially when that retro-YA isn't dated or ages well.

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  22. I actually love books that are told through flashbacks and that, coupled with the fact that this book deals with it's subject matter in an intriguing and respectful way, make me want to read this, and to point my teenage daughter towards it. I like that you mention that the girls are somewhat passionate about each other, and since I haven't read much literature on this topic, I had no idea it was so rare. Another good reason for me to pick this book up soon! Thanks for the very eloquent review, Ana.

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  23. This is definitely a book I would like to read. It's hard to find good reads on a subject like this one, so I'm happy you reviewed this. I will not be reading it this year but it's something that I definitely want to look into in 2011. Thanks, Ana!

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  24. April: You're most welcome! That was a great find - enjoy :D

    Zibilee: This is definitely one both you and your kids could enjoy - and have a great conversation about!

    Alice: You're welcome! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did :)

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  25. I will be buying this one for a friend's daughter for Christmas. Thank you Ana for bringing this to my attention. With your endorsement and positive review, I know it will be enjoyed!

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  26. This is a book that I want to put into my library. I read it and thought it was tastefully written and an important book for those who may want to read it!

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  27. Great review! This book has been on my radar for a while, but I haven't read that many reviews of it. The structure seems interesting (I love flashbacks, as long as they feel justified with the story). Also, the characters seem to be complex instead of one-dimensional, which is also a good thing.

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  28. This sounds very interesting - so many GLBT books (quite understandably) feel like the GLBT-ness it the only driving force in the relationship when ALL relationships have to deal with certain things - social class being a good example of that. I don't mean to say that books that write about what it's like to be in love with someone of the same sex are bad, just that sometimes I think it would be good if the book was just written to show that it's just 'being in love' with all the wonderful and horrible that entails. If that makes sense. Not to say the social aspects of the specific should be ignored. Just that usually there's lip service with no real showing, or a very didactic lesson in 'see, relationships are the same for everyone', or the book is written just ignoring the world and making some ideal world, or something.

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  29. I also find that it's aged really well. I completely forgot that it was set in the 80s when I read it, it's a love story that continues to resonate and is not bound by its setting.

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  30. As is so often these case, I'd often heard of this, but I'd never heard much about it. It sounds wonderful. I hope my library has it.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.