Rachel reviews The Year They Burned the Books by Nancy Garden


Nancy Garden, author of the classic Annie on my Mind, wrote another poignant novel about lesbians. This time, she touched on controversy about homosexuality, censorship, and free speech. The Year They Burned The Books is that novel.

Published in 1999, this story still rings true today about how far censorship and prejudice can go. The story revolves around Jamie Crawford, a senior at Wilson High School, who is editor of the school paper, the Telegraph. She is coming out to herself as a lesbian. In her school, a new policy comes out, allowing condoms to be distributed in the nurse’s office. When Jamie writes an editorial supporting it, she is met with opposition, especially from Lisa Buel, a woman running for a position on the school board. Lisa wants to rewrite the entire school curriculum, including removing books on homosexuality, discussing abstinence, and omitting facts about cohabiting couples. When Jamie stays true to her views, other students begin to lash out at her, and the school paper. Soon, Jamie’s town comes under a huge censorship scandal, and she and her gay friends face discrimination.

The Year They Burned The Books nails it when it comes to discrimination and free speech rights. Nancy Garden based this book off a real-life event, when copies of her novel Annie were burned on courthouse steps in a town in Kansas, and the books were nearly banned from schools in the district. The Year They Burned The Books shows accurately how far discrimination can be taken.

The main conflict in the story starts out with the health curriculum, but as the novel progresses, the characters begin to spar over things like religion and homosexuality. Jamie is firm in her opinions, but there are a couple characters who are conflicted. Nomi, Jamie’s longtime friend, wants to stay Jamie’s friend, but the church she goes to says homosexuality is immoral. She must wrestle with her beliefs and come to her own conclusions. Then there is Ernie, the boyfriend of Terry, Jamie’s best friend. Ernie loves Terry, but his parents are completely against homosexuality. He feels he has to be straight, and feels loathing and disgust towards himself. He too must try and reconcile his beliefs with his sexuality.

Other characters were highly unlikeable, especially Lisa Buel. She promotes discrimination in the name of her religion, and her insults towards homosexuals are infuriating. As she campaigns for school board membership, she purposely deceives voters by not sharing her true intentions. She also resorts to extreme measures, one being checking out library books about gays and lesbians, burning them, and then lying about burning library books. These things showed her bad side.

This story can be heavy at times, with Jamie and her friends getting scary notes in school, the town’s narrow-minded side, and the school paper coming under fire because of Jamie’s editorial. Many students at Wilson High go to church one day, and the next day they launch hatred against the gay students. Nancy Garden wasn’t afraid to show this side of people, which I applaud.

I also loved how Jamie and her friends stuck with their beliefs and stood up to those who hated them. One of my favorites was Tessa, the new girl at school. She was dead firm in her human rights opinions and was not afraid to say so. She and Jamie made perfect friends, and balanced each other out. Terry was also not afraid to jump in to defend those he cared about, especially Ernie.

The Year They Burned The Books had its tense moments, and times when I got really angry. But there was still goodness and hope in the story. It was a satisfying read, and gays and lesbians should read this. Straight people should read it too, as it touches on all true subjects and challenges censoring people’s opinions. Some may disagree with the views expressed in this book, but that’s okay, as long as everyone can believe what they want without being hurt. That’s what this novel teaches; being entitled to your beliefs without being persecuted. I thought this story was amazingly told, and with a sympathetic, likeable heroine, The Year They Burned The Books should be a major classic as well.

Rachel reviews Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden


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.

Rachel reviews Good Moon Rising by Nancy Garden


While most fans of lesbian literature will recognize Nancy Garden for her classic romance Annie on my Mind, there are still plenty of other books she has written that young lesbians can relate to. Good Moon Rising is one of them. It has a combination of lesbian lovers, theatre and acting, and intolerance and ignorance of homosexuality.

Seventeen year old Jan Montcrief, a budding young stage actress, returns to her school after a pleasant time at a summer acting program. The theatre coach, Mrs. Nicholson, is putting on The Crucible, a play about the Salem Witch Trials, and Jan auditions for the female lead, Elizabeth Proctor. She is soon shocked to learn that she will not be playing Elizabeth; she will be a stage manager. The new girl, Kerry Ann Socrides has gotten Jan’s part. At first upset, Jan grows to enjoy her new role, and to befriend Kerry as they work on Crucible together. Soon, Mrs. Nicholson is in poor health, and Jan must take over as director. She and Kerry fall deeply in love, which their classmates pick up on pretty fast. And some are determined to use that against the girls.

Good Moon Rising does a wonderful job with the characters, making Jan and Kerry likeable. Also Jan’s wondering “Am I gay?” will strongly resonate with any lesbian doing her own soul-searching. The supporting characters add to the story. Ted, Jan’s lifelong best friend, has his own feelings for Jan that complicate their friendship. Kerry’s eccentric and silly Aunt Elena provides some laughs, though she has her reservations about homosexuality. Perhaps the most conflicted and prejudiced character is Kent, a classmate playing John Proctor. He is openly gay-bashing and always trying to prove himself as a “real” man. But Jan soon suspects that Kent is hiding his own homosexuality. It’s ironic; Kent, a homosexual himself, actually does the most bullying in the book.

The prejudice Jan and Kerry face parallel to the hysteria and ignorance of those who participated in the Salem Witch Trials. All over school, signs saying “I saw Jan Montcrief with the devil, I saw Kerry Socrides with the devil” are posted, sounding like the lines used in The Crucible. Kerry and Jan are thrown Bible quotes alongside threats and prank phone calls. Their classmates are going out of their way to ruin the two girls and break them apart; all because of their own fears and hatreds, much like Crucible and the Salem trials.

Good Moon Rising, compared with Annie on my Mind, is somewhat darker in tone, as the prejudice the girls face is bolder, and Jan must come to terms with Mrs. Nicholson’s terminal illness and eventual death. The book has a few sadder scenes, and Jan and Kerry are dealt a lot of homophobic blows. For a while, things between them are uncertain. And the story is set in late fall, giving a dreary atmosphere.

But there is still hope for Jan and Kerry. With help from Jan’s gay friend Raphael, the girls begin to come out and take braver steps in telling their families and remaining together. Though some questions are left unanswered, Good Moon Rising ends on a happy note. Jan and Kerry’s love for each other seems stronger, and both feel more comfortable as lesbians. And they do have the support of friends to pull them through. While Good Moon Rising is a more somber read, it is a masterpiece in its own right, and should be remembered as one of Nancy Garden’s best novels.

Erica Gillingham reviews Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden


“Have you ever felt really close to someone? So close that you can’t understand why you and the other person have two separate bodies, two separate skins? I think it was Sunday when that feeling began.”

Let me give you a little background on me before I tell you how awesome Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden really is: I research love and romance in LGBT YA novels. Which means that I read a lot of love stories about gay teenagers. Which really means that I’m a big ol’ sap. A novel with a sweet, compelling love story makes me swoon faster than you can say, “Kiss me.” Which is basically to warn you that this post may contain a large amount of gushing.

The other thing you need to know about my review of Annie On My Mind is that I avoided reading it for, well, a long time. My dismissive thinking went a little something like this: ‘it was published in 1982, two years before I was born! C’mon, it can’t be that exciting now. Really, how good is this “classic” going to be? A YA novel published in the 1980s must have been so censored that reading it will be such a chore—you don’t even get explicit scenes in YA published in 2012!’ (Yes, sometimes my inner monologue does remind me of the teenage characters I read about, but in the spirit of being with you honest with you on the Internet, I was thinking stuff like that.)

Which is why I feel it is so important to admit that I was being a big ol’ AGEIST when it came to actually cracking the spine on my 25th anniversary edition copy.

I want to stand up in front of all you lovely Lesbrary readers, own up to all of scathing prejudice and snarky disbelief, and admit: GIRL, I WAS SO WRONG.

Annie On My Mind is an incredible young adult novel with a sweet, sweet love story. It blows my mind that it was published in 1982—amongst so much fear and misinformation about homosexuality—but it boggles my mind even more that there aren’t MORE YA novels like it published by now.

To set up the story, Liza and Annie meet in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Annie is singing her heart out in a deserted wing and Liza, an architectural student, has come to take a look around the museum. They come from different socio-economic backgrounds and very different school situations and yet that does not pose any significant issue to their relationship. The attraction is instant and their friendship builds swiftly.

The major drama of the story revolves around the strict rules and image of Liza’s private school as it is in danger of closing for financial reasons. As you can imagine, all of the students and faculty (hint hint: there are more lesbians than meets the eye) must be on their utmost behaviour during such a funding crisis, i.e. any bad news is all bad news for the school. The other barrier to their relationship is Liza’s coming out process. To be fair, though, I have read much more tortured and dramatic coming out stories. Liza’s, in contrast, feels real in the time it takes for her to accept herself and open herself up—fully—to her relationship with Annie.

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of page space given over to the sexual desires and acts between Liza and Annie. Sure, it’s not explicit sex scenes, but no one can argue that those two seventeen year old girls don’t have a healthy sex life! Some teenagers do have a high sex drive, especially when they fall in deeply in love for the first time, and it was refreshing for me to read that in a YA novel.

When reading it, I do think it is relevant to remember that it was published in the 1980s. Some of the references and ‘ways of life’ are no longer as common today—who has recently pierced their ears with a needle and a potato instead of going down to the mall?!—but the story itself isn’t dated. The relevance of a love story never ages, and this one really does deserve the title of ‘classic.’

Editor note: Also check out Danika and Ana’s conversation about this book, and Danika’s notes about this book!

Erica is a MPhil/PhD Student researching love and romance in LGBT YA literature. She is currently running an Indiegogo campaign, “Made with Love,” to fund the second year of her program. More info can be found on her website.

Jill reviews Hear Us Out: Lesbian and Gay Stories of Struggle, Progress, and Hope, 1950 to the Present by Nancy Garden



Written by Nancy Garden of Annie on my Mind fame, Hear Us Out is essentially three quarters short story collection, one quarter history lesson. The stories are divided into decades of time, covering the 1950s through the 2000s. Each section begins with a brief essay about the events and atmosphere of the time in gay history, followed by two short stories full of characters and places that could fit into that time frame, although many of the stories could definitely cross into timeless places, as well. Before I even started this book, I thought the entire idea and organization of it was brilliant: covering a smorgasbord of real political issues made personal through Garden’s fictionalized worlds, this book is a little hard to classify. And typically, I adore books that are hard to classify. The library where I found it, interestingly, had it classified as non-fiction. But while it is in one way very much a history text, it’s also a clear work of literary fiction at the same time. The blurb on the jacket actually sums it up much better than I just did: “This unique approach gives not only the facts but the feelings, too.”

One thing that’s certain, though, is that it is geared towards youth, and the non-fiction historical essays are definitely written in a relatively simplified and straightforward manner, which is only negative if you’re overly opposed to reading books for youth as a whole. I happen to love non-fiction geared towards youth in particular because it can often simply be more enjoyable than the adult stuff, while still enlightening when done right, as Garden does. It’s clear and engaging, while avoiding being derisive. And one of my favorite parts was that in each historical essay, after the main events of the time were described, she made sure to focus on what that decade meant for youth in particular, or how youth helped to galvanize change for themselves and for the community, an aspect that’s often wanting in other historical queer texts.

As for the stories themselves, there are many tropes that we have seen before, to the point that they’re often looked on as conclusions we should be moving away from now: that being gay necessitates rejection, violence, running away, death. Yet in light of the point of this project, I think they make sense: that was how many people experienced gayness in the 50s, and many of these things do still even happen today, too, amidst all the progress. And importantly, one thing is true in all the stories, even the darker ones: even if the characters feel like giving up or face enormous odds, none of them deny who they are, or believe that they should.

Some of my favorite stories included both of the stories from the 60s: “Cold Comfort,” a classically Southern-feeling tale of two girls in a small town, and “Stonewall,” documenting when one man got to lose his virginity and witness the birth of a movement all in one night. I also found “My Father’s Buddha,” from the 80s, particularly moving, touching briefly on both the ghosts of Vietnam and the all-too-present horror of AIDS, and the search for solace in the pain of both. Another highlight as a whole was being that Garden was at the helm, the majority of the stories, other than these two I just mentioned, do in fact deal with lady love. And in my own experience with queer short story collections, the scale is normally tipped towards the dudes, so it was refreshing to experience the opposite.

While rejecting gender norms, particularly by women, was addressed in many of the stories, I did wish that there could have been at least one specifically trans story included (although she does include them in the essays), but I suppose one author and one book can’t be everything for everybody.

Short story collections can also often be a strange beast in terms of the ratio of wins to disappointments, but when they’re all from the same author, it feels consistent enough to be steadily satisfying, while the plots and writing styles still vary enough with each story to keep it interesting.

Overall, this entirely accessible volume reaches out to youth to not only bring comfort about a variety of situations readers might relate to in one story or the other, but to show the hope in how far we’ve come. The hiding and the rejection and the injustice in some of these stories are all very real parts of our history and parts we can’t forget, and parts that youth need to know about, as well. This book was published in 2007, and even reading through the introductory essay for the 2000s decade (the one essay that seemed a little overlong to me), it felt slightly surreal in terms of all the gains we’ve made just in the last five years since its publication. Accordingly, while that section by itself is easily outdated, a fact Garden acknowledges to be inevitable, the rest of the book could stand the test of time forever. While being up to date on queer books for youth is sort of my thing, I feel this one has flown under the radar a bit: I hadn’t really heard of it before I stumbled onto it in the library, and I wish that was a different story, and that it was widely available to youth (and just people) everywhere. (An updated, slightly more hip cover wouldn’t hurt, either.) Highly recommended.

Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden

I’ll try not to repeat myself too much, but look at the diligent notes I took! I had to do them justice! But I don’t think I have enough to do  coherent review that wasn’t already covered in the discussion Anna and I had. So instead, I’ll just post the thoughts I didn’t already express. These random snippets will be full of spoilers, so I’m not going to bother making you highlight for them. Consider yourself warned.

  • Annie is a reader! Pg 75 of my copy, she says “I read a lot.”
  • It was odd, after we got introduced to Annie’s grandmother, I was steeling myself for the inevitable awfulness of when she found out that Annie is gay. That… never happened.
  • AOMM was good for seeing into Liza’s strange, sheltered little world. I come from a very different environment, and not just because it’s several decades later. For example, Liza makes her whole high school time revolve around her getting into her university of choice. I don’t think that’s quite as prevalent in Canada, or at least not in the schools I went to. Getting into a “good” university was sort of a bonus, but most of the kids from my “gifted”/whatever program ended up at one of the universities we have here, which is good, but not huge on the international  map. I never gave a second thought to what university I wanted to be in when I was in high school, but maybe that was just me.
  • Also, Liza had a very privileged life. I couldn’t believe that she got suspended and then didn’t get grounded. Especially since her dad was so mad at first. What’s the downside to being able to not have to go to school and not be grounded? That’s not a punishment! But that was about as far as punishments went in her case, and she was devestated. I’d be celebrating, and I wasn’t even a bad student.
  • I liked the idea of how her school was supposed to run, though, obviously, it would have to be without the corruption. The sort of democratic system of running it seemed like a fair way to do it.
  • I loved when Liza literally played knight in shining armor. That’s such classic lesbian-in-love.
  • Liza and Annie, but especially Liza, are very odd. The make believe, the singing at the museum, and then at some point Liza growls at a homeless person. This is not normal high school senior behavior.
  • Baxter and Poindexter are so very pathetic.
  • There are actually a lot of points in the novel that I thought were foreshadowing, but didn’t really lead to anything. “Oh no, her brother is getting suspicious! … No, no, he’s over it.”
  • Sally takes a nose dive as a character. By the end I had a seething hatred for her.
  • AOMM has a great passage that describes exactly why I’m so into lesbian lit. “I felt as if I were meeting parts of myself in the gay people I read about. Gradually, I began to feel calmer inside, more complete and sure of myself […]” My favourite part of AOMM is the literature references.
  • I got absolutely furious in my notes when Annie and Liza get caught and lectured. Some excerpts: [to Baxter] “You absolute scum”, “**** you, Sally/Walt!” “How dare you!” and later: “Suck it, Poindexter!” … I swear I’m not usually like this. It was a very emotional part of the story.
  • Another example of Liza’s strange little life: she had never lied to her parents before the whole gay thing. Never. About anything.
  • Near the end of the book, Liza writes down “Running through my head – running through my head”. Am I the only one who couldn’t help thinking of the tatu song?

Have you read Annie On My Mind? What did you think of it?

Annie On My Mind Conversation

Remember that time that me and Cass of Bonjour Cass read Well of Loneliness and then talked/ranted/rambled to each other about it? Well, Anna of Future Feminist Librarian-Activist emailed be afterwards about doing something similar. We agreed to read Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden. It was published in 1982 and is pretty much the classic lesbian teen book. Here’s what we talked about. I tried to warn about spoilers, but I may have let some small ones through.

Danika: I remember when I first read AOMM I thought there was something a little bit off about their relationship […] And now I think I know what bothered me. I don’t know if it’s because it’s set in the 80’s, or if it’s Nancy Garden’s writing, but they both seem a lot younger than what they’re supposed to be

Yes! They’re supposed to be, like, headed for college and they act like they’re in middle school

D: I know it’s in a sort of self-conscious “girls our age aren’t supposed to do this” way, but I still liked it a lot better once I started thinking of them as 13-year-olds instead of 17-year-olds. And it’s not just them: even her little brother seems at least 4 years younger than his given age! And her classmates!

A: Yeah. I don’t think I noticed it so much when I was younger, because I read it when I was about thirteen myself? It was about the only lesbian YA novel my library had (early to mid-90s). To be fair, that was before the real boom in queer YA fiction. AOMM was probably one of the few available. And not a bad one to have if you’re only going to have one (no one dies!) … but yeah, I agree with you that, especially this time around I was left thinking, “wow, and these are supposed to be seniors?” It’s not even Annie’s imaginary world … it’s more the school politics and so on.

D: Yeah, the ear-piercing!

A: Like, no one has a real sense of a world beyond the microcosm of the prep school


D: Again, I was thinking “Well, maybe it’s just because this was 30 years ago…?” But it definitely seemed a bit off

A: Part of it probably is the era … and the fact that Nancy Garden was probably, on some level, harkening back to her own teen years which would have been in, what, the 1950s? 60s? When maybe ear piercing was more risque?

D: Aaah, yeah, that might have been part of it

A: I also wondered if maybe part of it was an attempt to make the drama center around something other than the fact that Liza was discovering her sexuality? So she invented another drama about the prep school that seemed kind of forced?

D: Maybe, but it turns into it being about her sexuality anyway

A: True

D: I remember when I first read AOMM I thought the girls’ meeting seemed really forced […] And I definitely agree with that the second time around. The singing, the sudden friendship… again, it’s the sort of way children interact, not teenagers

A: Yeah — teenagers are more self-aware, and self … restrained? I made instant best friends with kids in art class when I was, maybe, six! Not when I was seventeen. At seventeen I was like, well, maybe going for coffee after class and see how that goes.

But since NG wanted the girls not to be at the same school, she had to find a way for them to run into each other.

I’d forgotten how much class is an implicit part of the story. The way Annie comes from a “bad” part of town and everything.

D: I forgot that, too!

A: I was thinking, vis a vis reactions to queer teens, that it was interesting that Liza’s sexuality was more controversial in her upper-class world than it seems to be in Annie’s world.

D: On the meeting: Still, I think she could have done better than “Don’t stop [singing]. Please.” “Oh, you startled me!” That just sounds really forced.

Yes, because everything was controversial in Liza’s little world. I guess the ear-piercing was supposed to highlight that, but it seemed odd anyway. The only question with Annie was whether she was going to tell her family or not, so I don’t think we ever see how her school would have handled it, but presumably they have more important things to worry about.

A: It would have been irrelevent in Annie’s school (I’m assuming); no one cared about her there. I got the sense she was nervous about telling her parents, but her family was portrayed as fairly accepting and encouraging. I got the sense that they would have been baffled and maybe a little worried or hurt, but there wouldn’t have been all the drama that Liza had in her family and at the school.

It was interesting to me how it was almost reversed … or maybe that’s not quite what I’m thinking of. But today, we think of urban upper-middle-class folks as fairly cool about queer sexualities, etc. Whereas we think of lower-class people as reactionaries. Culturally. And in this story, the opposite was the case. I doubt those stereotypes would hold up, but it’s interesting that she chose to write it like that.

That is the framework we generally use. But Liza’s privilege paralyzed her. Her school was so caught up in itself that no one could step out of line. It was a weird relation between them.

A: Yeah. Maybe I’m just to midwestern to understand the world of elite prep schools!

D: Yes, it was really weird seeing into that strange boxed-off world.

On a slightly different note, I was writing down some thoughts as I went, and on page 49 of my version, I thought Garden was foreshadowing the reaction to her coming out. It was when the parents found out about the ear-piercing, and the mom is pretty accepting, but the dad freaks out. [mild spoilers, highlight to read] So it surprised me later when he was actually really great about it.[end spoilers]

A: Good point. I was really intrigued by a number of the adults in the story, actually … and the way in which adults were portrayed in relation to the young people.

D: How so?

A: Well, I was impressed that the adults at [mild spoilers] the hearing were not portrayed as monoliths, as monsters, and that a couple were standing up to the schoolmistress, even if for their own reasons. [end spoilers] And I thought it was an interesting (and positive) choice to [spoilers] give the girls such human mentors, themselves lesbians of an elder generation. [end spoilers]

D: Yeah, that’s very true. The thing that stuck with me most about AOMM has always been the [spoilers] teacher couple .  Actually, the thing that stuck with me the most was their book collection. Lesbian books inside my lesbian book! Wow! The teachers’ [end spoilers] presence really made the story.

A: [spoilers] I agree about the teachers. In contrast to the charicatured headmistress and the reactive parents, the two teachers came across really human, but also kind and supportive, generous, and sheltering without being controlling. I wondered in my notes whether this was a conscious attempt to counteract the specter of the gay/lesbian predator? and yeah, it was fascinating to have the books play such a role in a couple of key scenes … from what I’ve heard from queer people of earlier generations, that was often the case! that they first discovered language for who they were from books … all the more reason to be a librarian-advocate for lgbtq teens 🙂 [end spoilers]

D: [spoilers] Aaah, I hadn’t considered that! Of course! Because the lesbian teachers were fantastic teachers. If I may quote my favourite line from the dad’s reaction (though he goes on to say he doesn’t think gay people can be truly happy), “Oh, look. What difference does it make if a couple of teachers are lesbians? Those two are damn good teachers and good people, too, as far as I know.” I mean, wow! Surprise acceptance! [end spoilers]

A: [spoilers] Hehe. Yeah, exactly. Because there’s that interesting conversation between the girls and the teachers after the teachers have been fired where the women acknowledge that if they don’t press charges, they should be able to get good references … because the school won’t want to admit that they fired the women for being lesbian … but they also fear for their ability to be hired if they were really out. So a real catch-22 [end spoilers]

A: Since we’ve talked a lot about where the story felt kind of forced … one of the ways in which I was really impressed with it was the fact that it a) had a couple of really sweet scenes in which the girls clearly make love, even if off-screen (so to speak) and b) that this is really seen as 100% a good thing, despite [spoilers] what happened with their teachers[end spoilers]. Their sexual exploration doesn’t spell doom for them as individuals or for their relationship. I don’t think many YA romances with straight couples were that whole-heartedly enthusiastic about young love back in the late 1970s …

Even Judy Blume’s “Forever,” despite the positive sexual experience, ends with the relationship ending.

D: That’s true. It’s a bit of a bittersweet book, because [spoilers] Liza gets suspended, nearly expelled for being gay, the teachers get fired, [end spoilers] and we know the whole time that they end up drifting apart after they leave for university. But it’s also a lot more positive than most of the queer books (YA or not) available at the time. They do [spoilers] end up together at the end [end spoilers], and there’s a lot of support of same-sex love.

I also liked reading it for all the tropes and patterns that young queer love, young closeted love takes. Like how you could totally tell they were in love with each other before they knew. Like the classic game of “how much physical contact can we hace before it means something?” (shoulders touching, hand holding, etc)

Oh, and it was also nice that neither of them really “went straight”. Annie was pretty sure she was gay, and Liza wasn’t sure, but was definitely leaning towards accepting it

A: Yes! Which I feel like is something that is still confusing to kids (or perhaps I only speak for myself) … since you’re trained, culturally, to expect that opposite-sex intereactions are laden, but not same-sex ones, so you aren’t so self-conscious and things kind of sneak up on you way more than with opposite-sex relationships.

D: Yes, exactly!

A: re: going straight, I agree! That actually seemed a little dated (in a nice way?) to me, since I feel like if this book had been written today, you’d get this whole “am I bi? am I gay? am I just questioning?” thing going on. Which is absent entirely: Liza comes to the realization she’s “gay” full-stop.

That’s true, it definitely has that all-or-nothing mentality that we’ve (thankfully) shaken off a little more by now

Oh, wait, I take it back: Annie did try to be straight! Back when she was younger. In her words: “It was ridiculous.” That made me laugh.

They are super cute when they are together and happy.

A: Yeah, and as you say there was that added element of the reader being “in the know” in part because Liza’s spoilered it for us at the very beginning with the framing narrative.

What do you think of the function of the framing narrative as a literary device? Do you think it adds anything to the narrative that we kind of know it ends badly (at least in the short-term) before the story begins?

D: I was pondering that the whole book. I kind of get why she did it, because she needed the drama to keep the story moving through the happy couple parts, but it did add this element of doom that, frankly, no queer book really needs any more of. I guess it works overall, because we get the [spoiler] happily ever after following the long(ish) separation [end spoilers] and we process it with Liza as she processes (and processing is a classic lesbian thing to do), but I’m a little divided on it. What did you think?

A: Hmm. Tough question. Retrospective narratives can sometimes work pretty well, but I agree with you that the last thing any queer teen book needs is more angst! That’s why I adore David Levithan’s work so much — his love stories are so ebullient. As a kid, I always felt like the way Liza blamed herself for [spoiler] the punishment exacted on the teachers (or, more accurately, for having made love in their home while she was house-sitting … what the hell was so shameful about that?) [end spoiler] was really exaggerated. Like, shouldn’t she have been pissed at the secretary who had the vendetta? And the schoolmistress, etc.?

But maybe that’s a personality thing — I always had an over-developed sense of self-righteousness as a child 🙂

D: Ah, I loved Boy Meets Boy for that! It’s like a combination of cotton candy and sinking into a hot tub. It’s just so refreshing to read a happy queer love story. I still want my lesbian version of that.

Well, I can see why they were a little ashamed. [spoiler] In the teachers’ bed…? That’s bad taste. What I couldn’t see, though, was why they opened the door! They didn’t have to answer! -sigh- The secretary was definitely over-the-top. The absolute poision she was spitting out was painful to read.[end spoiler]

re: Boy Meets Boy, totally! I feel like YA lesbian fiction is still waiting for its Daniel Levithan (if you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them!)

[spoiler] re: teacher’s bed … I guess. I did a lot of house-sitting in high school and college and I always slept in the homeowner’s bed (clean sheets, granted) so it didn’t feel so weird to me. but that wasn’t in the deal Liza made with the teachers, so I guess that is a little different. Oh, totally with the door! *headdesk* why oh why did she have to answer????[end spoiler]

D: I don’t know of anything quite so positive, though I have read some good ones. Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie is my favourite.

[spoiler]Especially before getting dressed![end spoiler]

A: Despite [spoiler] the secretary’s religiously-motivated poison [end spoiler], I was actually surprised by how little religious conservatives and the religious right as a force opposed to sexual expression appeared in the novel (contrasting, again, with the way it figures in some Levithan stories) … I think that’s another way this dates the story, since it was set just as that force was gathering.

D: True, I mean, [spoiler] when she faces the commitee/council/whatever that was, they basically say “Hey, this is none of our business”, which is pretty good for the circumstances. [end spoiler]

A: Yeah, I think it’s interesting how the battle-lines are drawn ever-so-slightly differently than we’re used to in our generation. The religious element not quite so strong, the class element more so. Being queer still being a threat to one’s overall reputation/status even in secular society. (Not saying that’s totally gone away, but you wouldn’t think in Liza’s New York or at MIT it would be an issue!)

D: Hmmm, yeah, I can see that… Honestly, I’m kind of surprised Liza wanted the school to survive. I know she has sentimental attachment to it, but even before [spoiler] they knew she was queer [end spoiler], Poindexter (got to love that name) was absolutely heinous, from the patronizing way of talking to running the meetings when Liza was supposed to be running them.

A: Yes. Again, another way in which they seemed young for their age. By 17, you’d think she’d have more perspective. I can see a younger child being invested in the school that had been a second home, but most seventeen-year-olds I’ve known (including myself!) are a bit more jaded!

D: Very true. By 17 I had distrust for all authority, definitely including my school

I don’t know if you read my review and conversation about Well of Loneliness, but I saw a couple of comparisons between it and AOMM that surprised me […] Well, for one, both the protagonists were horrified at people hating them being gay, because they both felt that their love was the “best part” of themselves, or some variation on that. […]  Also, both have a scene with the couple being happy that is described as an “illusion”. It’s just funny because WoL is mentioned in AOMM as [spoiler] part of the teachers’ book collection [end spoiler].

Oh, and also, on an unrelated subject, I had to laugh at the note Liza found in her locker. “Lesie”? I wouldn’t even be sure what that was trying to refer to.

A: Yes, it was fun to see the lesbian classics appear on their shelves

D: Especially Patience & Sarah, because Liza and Annie read it, and this time I have, too!

A: I read once an essay that was talking about how generations of queer folks locate themselves in history through alternate means than family ties, since so many of them don’t come from families where the parents are themselves queer — and literature was one way.

Oh, I haven’t! Is it any good? Maybe we should read that next!

Re: Lesie, no, it took me a second. Dated slang. 🙂 A perennial bane of YA lit, I think

D: That’s exactly why I feel that queer lit is so important. It is a foundation to the queer community.

I liked it! It’s a little more cheery than you’d expect from historical lesbian lit. I’d definitely be up for reading it with you!

But I think we’ll have to wrap up this convo so I can catch my bus. Any last thoughts?

A: Not that I can think of — other than that I really enjoyed the chance to re-read this with someone else, and I’d totally be up for doing it again!

D: I would, too! Just let me know!

And that was our conversation about AOMM! I really like doing these discussions, because I love lesbian lit, but I don’t have many people I can talk to in real life about it. Anna and I want to make this a regular feature, probably once every two months or so. Next we’re reading Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie, so we can compare it to AOMM to see how lesbian teen lit had changed. If you’d like to read or re-read a lesbian book with me and discuss it like this, just email me and let me know! If you’d rather read our conversation without having to highlight for spoilers, Anna has it in full on her blog. Besides, you should be reading her blog anyway.

I’ll be posting my review of Annie On My Mind Wednesday.

Bi & Lesbian Book Recommendations

If you’re not sure where to start with queer women books, here are some of my favourites.

The Classics

1) Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae BrownRubfruit Jungle

This 1970s novel is not only a lesbian/queer women classic, it also entertaining and challenges social norms even to this day. I still remember the day I realized I needed to read more queer women books. It was when my mother found out I had not read Rubyfruit Jungle and said “And you call yourself a lesbian.” I’m glad she shamed me into picking it up. Lesbian author.

2) Patience and Sarah (or A Place for Us) by Isabel Miller

Written in 1969, but set in the early 19th century, this queer classic also manages to tell a romance between two women without being depressing. It also influenced my very author’s work: Sarah Waters.

3) Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

Do not let this be the first lesbian book you read! If I was doing this list by order of which is most classic, I would start with this one, but it violated my cardinal rule: don’t be depressing. I recommend Well of Loneliness because it’s a classic (published in 1928), because it was actually surprisingly not very difficult to read, and because it was judged as obscene although the hot lesbian love scene consisted entirely of “And that night they were not divided”, but it’s not a pick-me-up book. In fact, if it wasn’t such a classic, I never would have read it at all; I refuse to read books that punish characters for being queer. I also got the suspicion while reading it that the protagonist was transgender, not a lesbian. Lesbian (or transgender?) author.

Young Adult

Aaah, what is more lesbian than the coming-out story…

Hello, Groin1) Hello, Groin by Beth Goobie

I found this book after my teens, but I still loved it. Hello, Groin deals with the protagonist’s attraction to women as well as censorship at her school. A book theme inside a lesbian book? I’m in love. It also is well-written and optimistic. I highly recommend this one.

2) Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

The classic lesbian teen book. I read this a while ago, so all I really remember is that I thought they fell in love awfully fast, but I enjoyed it, and it’s definitely a must-read for the well-read lesbrarian.

General Fiction

1) Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

This is my very favourite book, queer or not. Sarah Waters has a writing style that I can just sink into, and despite the fact that I rarely seek out historical fiction, I fell in love with Tipping the Velvet. The ending is such a perfect representation of the odd, complicated nature of love. Plus, this is a coming-out story, that classic trope. Fingersmith is a very close second, which also has lesbians, but includes an absolutely killer, twisting plot. If you’re not shocked by the direction this takes, you are much more clever than I am. Lesbian author.

2) Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg

This is an odd book for me. In the beginning, I thought, “this is sort of clumsily written”, but by the end I was blown away. I’m not sure what it is, but I really loved this book.

3) Oranges are not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

This isn’t my favourite of Winterson’s books, but it is, again, a classic. Jeanette Winterson has a beautiful, dream-like way of writing, and I plan to read all of her books eventually, though she is quite prolific. This one is rumored to be semi-autobiographical, and it’s definitely worth reading. Lesbian author.

4) Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue

I have a soft spot for fairy tale re-tellings, so it wasn’t surprising that a lesbian fairy tale re-telling made the list. What is surprising, though, is not only Donoghue’s readable writing style, but her ability to weave each story into the next, creating a whole tapestry connecting some of your favourite fairy tales. Lesbian author.


1) anything by Ivan E. Coyote

Coyote is not exactly woman-identified, but ze’s not man-identified either, so that’s good enough for me to make the list. I love Coyote’s style, and the stories including in any of the collections (One Man’s Trash, Close to Spider Man, Loose End, The Slow Fix) are short, to-the-point, and always affecting. Queer author.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel cover2) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel is the creator of the famous lesbian comics Dykes to Watch Out For. In her graphic autobiography, she illustrates her childhood, constantly drawing comparisons to her father. It may violate my “don’t be depressing” rule, but the comics alone are worth reading it for, and perhaps the uneasy feeling you’ll get afterward. Lesbian author.

3) Aimée & Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer

I actually read about half of this thinking it was a really elaborate fictional story, so that should tell you how well it was written. Plus, a lesbian love story in Berlin, 1943? You know it’s going to be interesting at the very least.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I hope to get some real reviews up soon! Feel free to start sending in reviews (more lengthy than these general recommendations, hopefully).

Thanks for reading!