“Annie On My Mind” is the unlikely love story of two teenagers in New York City, Annie Kenyon and Liza Winthrop. First published in 1983, this book has been of great importance to many individuals in coping with their sexuality in a time period when anything that strayed from cisgendered heteronormativity was often scrutinized. The cause of much controversy, this novel has become a must-read in the queer cannon.
As a group, we generally enjoyed this novel. While I had my hesitations, I came around to the book after reading the interview with the author at the back of my copy. I initially had some criticisms of the book; mainly that it seemed unrealistically optimistic. This is where my historical cynicism comes in (just as it did with “Rubyfruit Jungle”). I sometimes lose myself in the thought: if a story fails to adequately represent the tumultuous, potentially life-ruining reactions to people’s sexuality, it fails to be truly representative of our community. It was not until I read the interview between Kathleen T. Horning and author, Nancy Garden, that I realized that this story is based on Nancy’s life. There are many parallels between Annie and Liza’s relationship and Nancy’s relationship with her life partner Sandy Scott. After finishing the novel with my cynicism in tact, reading the interview brought tears to my eyes. This is not a fictitious ideal world – it is very close to Nancy’s real world. While the climate for the LGBTQ+ community was tough in the time this novel was published/took place, love still prevailed. Of course it did!
“Annie On My Mind” tackles issues specific to the LGBTQ+ community such as the confusion that comes with realizing/accepting one’s sexuality, the secrecy with which one had to move through the world, the fear/consequences of coming out, and all of the self-critique and doubt that often accompanies these stepping stones. The novel also, however, tackles some broader human issues such as the class divide, immigration in America, the flaws in the education system, and more. Woven throughout is the beautiful blossoming of a friendship turned romantic relationship.
While our protagonist Annie and her lover Liza move through their relationship with relatively little consequence from the outside world, they do face some adversity when their secret relationship is eventually discovered. Annie is tasked with house sitting for a pair of her female teachers (who are suspected of being in a relationship) over one of the school breaks. Although her first thought was not to utilize this house to enjoy some rare privacy with her now full-blown lover Liza, Annie eventually realizes and takes advantage of the opportunity for intimacy and comfort. These scenes were some of my favorite in the entire novel – Nancy Garden does a beautiful job of capturing those first experiences with domesticity and privacy with a partner, something that I completely identified with. These scenes do a beautiful job paralleling Annie’s attitude that her love with Liza feels normal and right – even if the world would try to have her feel otherwise. Their discovery unravels into a dark place for both Annie and Liza’s relationship as well as for the two teachers. To learn more, you may just have to read the book!
In the early nineties, “Annie On My Mind” became the center of controversy when it was widely banned and even burned in anti LGBTQ+ demonstrations in Kansas. People did not believe that this book belonged in school libraries. Fortunately, a lawsuit righted this injustice and brought the book back to shelves, where young folks who truly needed a queer narrative could access it. “Annie on My Mind” is still widely distributed and read, truly standing the test of time.
I am left with an overwhelming amount of gratitude for Nancy Garden for creating and fighting for queer stories. Nancy fought against censorship, and earned prestige in the form of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for significant and lasting contributions to young adult literature from the American Library Association. Thank you Nancy for your fight. You continue to inspire young generations of LGBTQ+ youth to fight for their right to live and to love.
Does “Annie on My Mind” have a special place in your heart? Share your thoughts in the comments section below! Thank you for joining us.
Join us next month as we discuss “Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More” by writer, TV host and transgender rights activist Janet Mock.