Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Not that I’d have been brave enough to purchase one, but as a teenager growing up before the advent of the internet, I had no idea there was even such a thing as a lesbian-themed book. I was wrong.
Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden’s classic love story of Eliza (Liza) Winthrop and Annie Kenton, was first published in 1982. The novel was included in the American Library Association’s Best of the Best for Young Adults list, and the recent commemorative edition includes an enlightening interview with the Lambda Book Award-winning author.
The book opens with Liza in her dorm room at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is attempting to finish a paper on Frank Lloyd Wright, but instead begins a letter to Annie, whom she hasn’t spoken to in months. "What I have to do," she writes, "before I can mail you a letter, is sort out what happened."
This "sorting out" is the basis for the story, which is told from Liza’s point of view and kicks off with their first meeting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The attraction is immediate and intense: "We looked at each other, really looked, I mean, for the first time, and for a moment or two I don’t think I could have told anyone my name, let alone where I was."
To deal with this energy, both frightening and exhilarating, the young women don masks and act as though they were characters in a King Arthur story. When Annie grows tired of playing "the medieval damsel" and Liza the "sir knight," the two finally begin to connect on a deeper level.
"It was like a war inside me," Liza describes of her affection for Annie, which feels natural and beautiful, and the conflicting belief that her behavior is aberrant. Eventually, she follows her heart â€” and, like most closeted teens in love, it is a heart bursting with equal amounts passion and fear.
Annie on My Mind is a traditional love story, except instead of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy tries to get girl back, it’s girl meets girl, girl loses girl, girl tries to get girl back. From the beginning, the reader knows that all will not turn out well. The scandal that ultimately separates the couple is not only heartbreaking and poignant; it threatens to close down Liza’s private school in Brooklyn.
But if the public consequences of Liza’s sexuality are a bit dated, the private ones are ubiquitous. In many ways, Annie on My Mind shows just how far we’ve come legally over the past 25 years. The interior process of growing up as a lesbian teen, however, still rings true.
"I’d never consciously thought about being gay," Liza reflects, "But it also seemed true that if I were, that might pull together not only what had been happening between me and Annie all along and how I felt about her, but also a lot of things in my life before I’d known her."
Garden, the author of several other LGBT books, including Molly’s Family and Hear Us Out! Lesbian and Gay Stories of Struggle, Progress, and Hope, 1950 to the Present, dedicated Annie on My Mind to "All of us." Certainly, if you missed this coming-of-age/coming-out story the first time around, there is still plenty to relate to and enjoy even now.