Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden

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.”

SPOILERS

First published in 1982, this book has the distinction of being the first YA book published in the U.S. to feature a gay couple that has a happy ending. It’s probably more appropriate to say the ending is bittersweet, considering not everyone walks away unscathed from what occurs, but everyone’s still alive, no one “got cured” or “went back” to being straight, and the ending is still really hopeful and very much appreciated.

To start off, Liza and Annie’s relationship is one of the sweetest, most romantic ones I’ve ever read. These two are pretty much the classic example of “love at first sight” – both meet one day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, bond over impromptu reenactments of knights performing chivalrous acts, and exchange phone numbers and addresses at the end of the day. Suddenly, both of them are spending the majority of their time together, exploring New York and its environs and finding beauty in everything around them until events come to a turn and Liza, the protagonist of the story, comes to the realization that she is in love with Annie. Me being extremely picky about textual romances, I would have preferred a bit less “love at first sight” and a bit more getting to know each other before romantic attraction sets in, but I’m honestly not going to complain all that much. The joy Liza and Annie experience together and in each other is so palpable and beautiful to read; it’s teenage love without feeling hackneyed at all. And that’s a damn impressive accomplishment.

Also, I was pleasantly surprised, but also pleased that the book addressed not only Liza and Annie’s romantic attraction for each other, but also their sexual attraction, and how Liza deals with the two forms differs drastically. The former’s easier – with a little effort, it’s not too strange to accept the premise that love is love, no matter who it’s felt by or directed towards. The latter on the other hand is harder for Liza in particular to come to grips with that this is something she truly wants, and that she wants it *a lot*. And she and Annie do end up having (non-descriptive) sex, which made me happy. In addition, I really liked how Liza struggled with calling herself gay and how it was just easier to think about the fact that she loved Annie rather than what it possibly might mean. For her, “gay” is too limiting and doesn’t really describe for her what she feels. It isn’t that she likes girls in general, it’s that she likes Annie. She objectively recognizes that “gay” might be the best description and she could theoretically fall in love with other girls later on, but the term still carries too much historical and cultural baggage for her to feel truly comfortable aligning herself with it.

And of course, it couldn’t be all happiness and rainbows because we have the strict, image-conscious, authoritarian principle of Liza’s private school Mrs. Poindexter and her lackey, the fluttery, extremely religious Mrs. Baxter who have gotten on Liza’s case before and get on her case in the end when Mrs. Baxter catches them in a somewhat compromising situation. It was actually really hard to read the first half of the book because it is really beautiful and touching and you know they’re going to get caught and there’s going to be hell to pay. And even the fact that this is set in the eighties doesn’t help with the ensuing rage and pain I felt while reading it because neither homophobia nor heterosexism are dead in the slightest, especially in schools. And the aftermath that follows them getting found out drives an almost impenetrable wedge between Annie, especially because the specifics of what they did cost two of Liza’s teachers their jobs and Liza can’t help but connect her and Annie’s love to that result.

I’m not sure if I conveyed this well or not, but what I’m essentially trying to say is that Annie On My Mind made me feel all of the emotions, and for that, I loved it. It’s such a wonderful love story and a really important one to boot. If you’re looking for a good YA book centered on a F/F couple, as wellas one that’s historically important in the canon of queer YA literature, this book is it.

Disclosure – library

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