My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Initial thoughts: I’m still trying to form thoughts on my reactions to “Annie on My Mind”, but the one thing I can say was that this was a wonderful novel and I’m wondering why it took me so long to read it. Beautifully written, the relationship between Annie and Liza is quite resonant, not just in how it develops, but how it endures. I loved the ending, and I was happy to be able to listen to some reflective thoughts on Nancy Garden’s life and personal experiences following the story.
“Annie on My Mind” was written approximately 30 years ago as of the year I’m writing this review (2012), and it feels as relevant today as it was in the time it was written (1982). I selected this read in honor of “Banned Books Week” and I have to say it’s one of the most powerful novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading, not just in the GLBT spectrum but notably among young adult novels that show a sense of power, growth, and resonance in an individual spectrum as well as in the face of adversity. It shapes itself around a developing relationship between two young women and how that relationship fosters into love despite the contrasting social attitudes. I think one of the things about this novel that struck me, even considering the simple structure of the overarching plot and contrasting elements that might strike a familiar chord in terms of the antagonism the protagonists face, was that it provides a sharp eye into Liza’s coming to terms with herself and sentiments. Her experiences are intimate without necessarily being overt, and there’s a passion behind her coming to terms with how much she cares for Annie, even as she struggles to define what it is, what it means, and how to find legs to stand on with it.
Liza’s a senior class president attending a prominent private school that seems to be waning in terms of its prominence and funding. She meets Annie who, in contrast, attends a public school. The book focuses on how their feelings emerge and the awkwardness that entails with trying to come to terms with those sentiments – and I found that very realistic in the progression of the novel. Yet they keep their relationship secret as they recognize the social stigmas surrounding them, but eventually their relationship is blown wide open in an incident that threatens to tear them, and their worlds, apart – particularly from Liza’s viewpoint considering her distinct identification in the matter.
I commend how Garden treats the unfolding plot with sensitivity and ultimately in a way that makes the reader want to see how the relationship between the girls endures and what comes of it. I rooted for Liza and Annie and the two teachers who are also caught in the crossfire of that turn in the story, and I felt for Liza even as she faces direct challenges against who she is and how she mentally, sometimes externally, knocks down those prejudices – though it’s also balanced with some of her qualms and moments of uncertainty. Granted, I think this novel set a tone for many books that follow it in the same spectrum of exploring dimensions of sexual orientation and relationships. I wonder, perhaps, that this novel could’ve even delved deeper into exploring the complexity of those prejudices and knocking them down, but I think for the story that was told, it does very well.
One of the most important themes I’ve found in young adult literature is the establishment of identity. It’s even a prominent theme among adults – finding your path to happiness, finding your heart, finding what makes you – well – you and being comfortable with that. “Annie on My Mind” builds upon that thematic with its protagonists well, though I admit that there are parts that I think could’ve been further delved into in retrospect. Still, I can see why many liked this novel and why it has such an impact. I definitely felt, appreciated, and would indubitably recommend it.
Overall score: 4.5/5