Published in 1982, Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind is one of the few truly timeless novels and remains a beloved lesbian classic.
While the novel is about two 17-year-old white girls in New York during the 1980s, young women of all races and backgrounds can see themselves in the two main characters.
Liza Winthrop comes from an affluent family and is a high-achiever who aspires to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art she meets another girl, Annie Kenyon, who comes from a disadvantaged, mostly immigrant family and aspires to study singing at the University of California, Berkeley. They begin a friendship in spite of their different backgrounds and personalities which over time turns into love. Various challenges are faced by the two, including an investigation by Liza's school involving her sexual orientation, but they eventually reunite at the end.
What draws readers into this novel are its relatability and its simplicity. There is something very honest and raw about both the protagonist and her romantic interest and their relationship is depicted as incredibly beautiful and tender. It is shocking but impressive that this was written in 1982.
Sadly, even in 2022 coming out is not easy for most of us and lesbophobia still exists. We can still relate to the fear, to the pressure to pretend to be what we are not, to the pain and often shock of realising that others will view some of your noblest and deepest feelings as sordid and evil and "unnatural" (their favourite card to play), to the worry of what our families will think and the bullying and abandonment we can experience. I read that the author also wrote this book to help heterosexuals understand that we are also human beings and that our feelings are not wrong. She does this very well and admirably. Annie on My Mind is so simple that it is profound. Two adolescent girls meet, become friends and realise that their feelings are not platonic, just as heterosexual couples often do. Others may not realise how meaningful this novel is to many lesbians and it was one of the first lesbian young adult novels I ever read. Liza and Annie love each other so much and the way they were discovered was unfortunate but it helped them develop their relationship.
They face various forms of disapproval, from raging homophobic teachers at Liza's school to even Liza's family who do not hate gay people but did not really want their own daughter to be gay. Her straight best friend, Sally, thinks that she is damaged:
Then you have people like Liza's father:
The real turning point in Liza and Annie's relationship is when Liza house-sits for two of her female teachers, Isabelle Stevenson and Katherine Widmer, who happen to live together. She invites Annie to join her and they eventually realise that Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer are a lesbian couple. Their bond deepens and they discover some books which educate them on their sexual orientation. They are discovered in practically the worst possible way by a homophobic teacher who then not only attempts to have Liza expelled, but also successfully has the school board fire the two teachers. Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer are initially upset but become mentors to the two girls. After a while Liza ends the relationship under pressure and refuses to reply Annie's letters but finally calls Annie at the end.
There is a particularly poignant quote from the book:
Ms. Stevenson puts it best:
Annie on My Mind is definitely a must-read.
© 2022 Amaka Nneka