This month, I invited the lesbian world to either re-read or read for the first time Annie on My Mind, in honor of author Nancy Garden, who passed away in June. From what I saw, there were lots of folks on both ends that answered the call, to either fondly recall the first time they read it, or enjoy it fresh. I was one of the newbies, but after finishing it, all I could think was—oh man. How had I not read this earlier!
1. For a long time, I thought Annie on My Mind WAS the first lesbian YA novel. But after doing some research about lesbian YA this month, I discovered that there were actually a few that came out a number of years before Annie. Yet it’s still Annie that resonates the most, that’s consistently stayed in print the longest, that still feels like the first.
I think a large part of that has to do with the fact that, even though they go through quite a bit of drama and intense homophobia, in the end, Annie and Liza’s happiness and love still prevails. Are there other reasons, too?
2. I think maybe one of the reasons it took me so long to pick this up is that I worried it would be too dated, too cheesy. With all the dynamic, wide-ranging, exciting YA these days that feature lesbians, who has time for Annie on My Mind? But almost as soon as I picked up my used-bookstore-bought copy and opened it up to the first yellowed page, I remembered: I LOVE YA FROM THE ‘70s AND ‘80s. It was what I grew up on: The Pigman and The Chocolate War were my favorite books in middle school, both of which contained almost violently lonely people, and a writing style that conveyed a particular kind of ache that always felt perfect. Here is the same kind of writing style, and the same kind of loneliness and ache, PLUS LESBIANS.
So for me, maybe there were parts that were slightly dated, but I didn’t mind. And all the exciting, confusing, raw feelings of falling in love with someone for the first time, of wanting to spend every moment with them, of the rest of the world falling away when you’re around them, of daydreaming about an idyllic future with that person that lasts forever and ever and tastes like fresh-baked cookies and feels like a purring cat rubbing against your leg on a Sunday afternoon—all of that is still exactly spot-on.
At least that was how I felt. Do you think Annie is too dated?
3. Do you relate more with Liza or Annie—the private school good girl, or the poor, public school dreamer? I think I relate the most with Liza falling in love with Annie, because I mean, Annie. HOW GREAT IS ANNIE.
4. Is there a New York City tour that takes you to all the places where Annie and Liza fell in love? The Met! The Cloisters! The Staten Island Ferry! That goshdarned Promenade in Brooklyn Heights! Because I would take that tour. Just sayin’.
5. Perhaps the one part of the novel that didn’t quite jive with me was the whole ear-piercing bit. Because, you guys. Ear-piercing. I know this takes place in the ‘80s, but the ‘80s aren’t the Middle Ages. But then again, I’ve never attended a private school like Foster Academy. So maybe the way it was handled WASN’T too over-the-top. Or was it?
Or maybe I was so distracted by all the ear-piercing talk because I just wanted to get to all the lesbian stuff, because you KNEW there was so much lesbian stuff coming! Nobody has time for you and your nonsense, Sally Jarrell!
6. One of my favorite parts of the novel was the complexity of adults that were in Annie and Liza’s worlds. Yes, there was the evil Mrs. Poindexter, but then there were also Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer. There were also Annie and Liza’s parents, who we didn’t get to see much of (particularly Annie’s), but we got the sense that, while Annie and Liza had reason to be afraid to tell them the truth, they also weren’t going to disown their daughters. And perhaps most interestingly, there were the other adults who sat in on Liza’s inquisition at Foster Academy at the end, who weren’t necessarily crusaders for gay equal rights, but who could recognize a homophobic witch hunt when they saw it.
How important were Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer to this story overall?
6. Annie on My Mind, perhaps one of the sweetest books I have ever read in my life, was burned in the ‘90s during protests at a Kansas City school district, sparking a controversy that ended up taking six years and $160,000 in court fees paid by the school to settle. This seems like such a ridiculous, antiquated story, but the ‘90s weren’t that long ago. Even so, just this month, a public school board in Delaware threw out an entire summer reading list that was carefully selected by librarians in order to avoid approving the inclusion of The Miseducation of Cameron Post on said list. While the board maintained it was for reasons of profanity, a letter of complaint from a parent that started the whole thing openly expressed concerns about Cam Post’s lesbian content.
So how far have we come since Annie on My Mind in terms of school censorship? How much farther do we have to go?
7. What are some of your favorite things about Annie on My Mind?