Fans of lesbian young adult literature should really pick up Annie On My Mind, by Nancy Garden. First published in 1982, Annie was one of the first lesbian fiction novels to have a happy ending. Garden put so much care and love into her story, and it really shows.
The story is told in the voice of Liza Winthrop, a seventeen year old high school senior looking to get into MIT. At a museum in New York City, she meets Annie Kenyon, also a high school senior, who is kind and musical. The two become good friends, and together they explore their city and get to know each other well. Soon, their tender feelings turn into love, and Liza grapples with the idea of being gay. She and Annie harbor their secret romance, and when Liza is discovered by her friends and family, she must decide whether to continue her relationship with Annie.
This novel is written in a kind of dreamlike quality that makes it beautiful. The characters of Liza and Annie are wonderful with each other. They have their faults, dreams, fears and insecurities. Annie especially sees the world in an imaginative way, which shows in her talks with Liza about the future and things in the present. She and down-to-earth, level-headed Liza, balance each other out really well.
The supporting characters were great too. I especially loved Liza’s art teacher, Ms. Stevenson. She has a strong sense of justice and is not afraid to say so. The headmistress at Liza’s private school, Mrs. Poindexter, is prim and proper, while Annie’s grandmother, Nana, provides some laughs with her easy going manner. In all, each character in the book enhanced the storyline and added to the plot nicely.
Garden also sent powerful messages about homophobia, intolerance, and same-sex love. When Liza is outed, the reactions around her range from disbelief and disgust to sadness and questioning. Most infuriating was Ms. Baxter, the headmistress’s aide, who was very judgmental to Liza, Annie, and other gay characters. Anyone reading Annie can easily recognize the homophobia and hatred that homosexuals still face today. The best of all messages, though, was that same-sex love is not a bad thing. That love is love. “Don’t let ignorance win, let love”, one of the novel’s quotes, really sums up the idea of love.
On a personal note, Annie is a very special book for me. This was the first lesbian novel I ever read. Sadly, Nancy Garden passed away in June, but she left a legacy of love and acceptance. A wonderful writer and advocate for gay rights, she and Annie On My Mind will forever hold a special place in my heart.