Annie on My Mind

This review recently posted to YALSA blog.

New to Me: Annie on My Mind

Melissa Rabey | Teen Reading | Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Once upon a time, being homosexual in a YA novel meant you were the sidekick, if you were lucky.  If you were the main character, you could be abused, raped, beaten, or even killed.  Homosexual characters didn’t get happy endings–until Annie on My Mind.

Annie on My Mind
Nancy Garden
Published 1982

The copy of Annie on My Mind that I got from my library includes a telling quote from School Library Journal:  “No single work has done more for young adult LGBT fiction than this classic about two teenage girls who fall in love.”  In a few words, the appeal of this novel is summed up.  Nancy Garden creates a touching love story that survives amidst prejudice and opposition, while managing to not preach or judge.

Liza and Annie meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Liza, practical and level-headed, plans to become an architect.  Annie is dreamy and emotional, an ideal temperament for the singer she wants to become.  When they meet there’s a connection.  They can be silly and play make-believe, or serious as they talk about anything.  They make time for each other after school and on weekends, and soon Annie is all Liza can think about.  Even though they’re from different worlds–Liza attends a private school and lives in Brooklyn Heights, while Annie goes to public school and lives in a run-down apartment–the two girls fall in love.  Being two girls in love feels right, although they never seem to find a way to be alone together.  So when Liza and Annie have a chance to do that, by using the house where two of Liza’s teachers live, they take it.  But their actions have wide-ranging consequences, and not just for them.

Annie on My Mind brings to life what New York was like in the early 1980s.  Yet the novel isn’t dated.  Part of that is the descriptions of museums and parks, places that haven’t really changed in the intervening years.  The Temple of Dendur at the Met is still clear and bright, as described by Garden.  But in the same breath, we see a New York that doesn’t really exist anymore–or at least we hope it doesn’t.  Because in this New York, discrimination is commonplace.  Liza’s school, which is on the verge of closing, is run by Mrs. Poindexter according to her rigid standards.  Although her actions against Liza leads to her dismissal, Mrs. Poindexter’s disgust of the homosexual lifestyle hurts more than just Liza, but also the teachers Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer.  And while the trustees disapprove of Mrs. Poindexter’s handling of this situation, they can’t deny that the school can’t employ homosexual teachers.

Adding realism to the story is the progress of Annie and Liza’s relationship.  When Annie on My Mind opens, it is six months after the end of high school.  Liza has pulled away from Annie, dealing with the guilt she feels over her actions.  Liza blames herself for what happened to her teachers.  She also looks at Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer and sees the future she wants: living with Annie, being as comfortable together as two old shoes.  But while that’s what Liza wants, it’s also scary.  So Liza spends an early winter evening remembering how she and Annie fell in love and how a few people nearly destroyed them.  And those memories help Liza make a decision, to not give up all she feels for Annie.  Ending with a telephone reconciliation and an exchange of love, Garden doesn’t punish Annie or Liza for being lesbians.

A story of love and its power, Annie on My Mind shows that homosexuality is not evil or perverted or wrong.  Once classified as a mental illness, homosexuality is now seen as little different from eye color: it’s one thing that makes a person who they are.  That change of opinion has happened in part thanks to novels like Annie on My Mind.  How lucky we are, to see what a good book can do!

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