Review: "Annie on My Mind" by Nancy Garden.
"Annie on My Mind"
Author: Nancy Garden
Publisher: 1992 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (first published July 1st 1982)
Pages: 233 (paperback edition).
Summary (taken from Goodreads): This groundbreaking book is the story of two teenage girls whose friendship blossoms into love and who, despite pressures from family and school that threaten their relationship, promise to be true to each other and their feelings. This book is so truthful and honest, it has been banned from many school libraries and even publicly burned in Kansas City.
Of the author and the book, the Margaret A. Edwards Award committee said, “Nancy Garden has the distinction of being the first author for young adults to create a lesbian love story with a positive ending. Using a fluid, readable style, Garden opens a window through which readers can find courage to be true to themselves.”
I am embarrassingly behind on reading most of the books that often grace the banned/challenged list. One that’s often caught my eye was Annie On My Mind, which continues to receive vitriol for its portrayal of two young women who fall in love with each other.
Young Adult as a genre has come a long way. Sure, there are the major setbacks of romanticizing abuse and cringe-worthy "teenspeak", but while there's the obligatory uproar over LGBT subjects, they are no longer the rarity. Books like Boy Meets Boy, Empress of the World, Luna, and countless others are available to teens everywhere in most libraries, bookstores, and of course online. It’s not as quite as barren out there as it was when I was in high school, which was about fifteen years ago. Yes, I’m old.
Annie On My Mind came out in the early eighties, when being gay was still equated with AIDS and books that portrayed homosexuals in a positive light were few and far between. It's quite dated, as the dialogue and characterization in the first half of the book is stilted and awkward. An example:
(pg. 12 in the paperback edition I read)
"We're terribly sorry, sir," Annie said, with a look of such innocence I didn't see how anyone could possibly be angry at her. "The knights are so-so splendid! I've never seen them before - I got carried away."
"Harrumph!" the guard said, loosening his hold on my shoulder and saying again, "Old enough to know better, both of you."
It's worth pressing on, however, because truly shines once the story focuses on the relationship between Annie and Liza. Annie has already faced her attraction to other girls, but the affection that Liza feels for Annie is all new to her. Her subsequent frustration with Annie and herself feels genuine, but the stilted dialogue still carries through until their relationship becomes more serious. It’s then that the book seems to truly focus on the subject matter, which is the love story between these characters and the effect it has on their community.
Naturally they find opposition, mostly when Liza’s private school discovers their relationship (as well as a similar one). Liza, being the student council president, is quite literally threatened when a couple of meddling school administrators decide to hold a trial of sorts to determine if Liza will keep her position, stay in the school, and have her “deviance” put on her permanent record, thus ruining her chances at going to MIT.
Ultimately Liza comes to the realization that her love for Annie is what was put on trial:
It's Annie and me they're all sitting around here like cardboard people judging; it's Annie and me. And what we did that they think is wrong, when you pare it all down, was fall in love.
It’s this message that makes this book a winner for me. Dated references and cartoonish depictions aside, Annie on My Mind is a love story for the ages. I tend to dislike romance as a genre and I’m also a die-hard cynic, but the end had me choked up.
This book is very much archaic by today’s standards. Annie and Liza argue over things that seem flat out ridiculous (which tapestry to sit by where they eat their lunch…really?) and while it’s obvious that they’ve started having sex, the act is barely mentioned in passing. Of course Annie On My Mind didn’t need sex scenes, but while Liza does notice Annie’s physical attributes, we don’t really go into her thought process with her sexual attraction to another girl, which could be helpful to young adults who are struggling with their attraction and desire.
It may not feel like it, but we’re starting to move in the right direction as far as LBGT issues are concerned. Gay couples are depicted in popular TV shows and movies, and coming out is no longer a death sentence to an entertainer’s career. In real life, hate speech directed towards LBGT people isn’t as tolerated as it once was, which isn’t to say it never happens, but people notice these things now and speak up against it. It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there. Keeping that in mind, it’s essential that books like these are read and discussed, because while it certainly has its faults, it’s the love story that prevails.