Published way back in 1982, Annie on My Mind has been hailed as a path-breaking novel on gay relationships. It goes without saying then that it has had its share of being banished, banned and burned.
And it has survived.
What is it about
Liza meets Annie in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is drawn to the melody of her voice. They end up having an imaginary sword fight in the sweetest ever meet-cute.
The two of them are very different. While Liza goes to private school and has a definite upper-class background, Annie goes to public school and is a not-so-well-to-do Italian-American immigrant.
None of that matters, however. The two become friends and continue to meet. They connect over long walks and even longer conversations. While Annie knows she’s gay, for Liza their togetherness is a journey of self-discovery, of coming to terms with her sexuality as she falls in love with Annie.
This tender romance is set against the backdrop of plenty of High School drama, which is entertaining in its own right.
This is a straightforward girl-meets-girl love story. Like all love stories it has hurdles. There’s fighting and makingup, a showdown and a separation.
So why is it pathbreaking?
One, because when it was written, YA fiction hadn’t become the big deal it is now.
Two, because gay people were never well represented. Even in books and stories, they never found love. Their feelings were never reciprocated. They led sad lives, were expelled from school or thrown out of their jobs, or were killed off (weird!), or (horror of horrors) turned straight.
In a quote from the book Liza says:
“I went downstairs to Dad’s encyclopedia and looked up HOMOSEXUALITY, but that didn’t tell me much about any of the things I felt. What struck me most, though, was that, in the whole long article, the word “love” wasn’t used even once. That made me mad; it was as if whoever wrote the article didn’t know that gay people actually love each other.
That sums up the attitude to gay partnerships back then. And the quote could have as well come from Nancy Garden herself, rather than Liza. She was a lesbian and lived together with her high-school sweetheart for 35 years before they were able to get married.
I love it when the book has a bit of the author in it and this one is pretty autobiographical.
All of this history aside, the book stands for itself as a touching love story
My favourite bits are where Liza and Annie explore New York together. It is almost as if they become tourists in their own city, looking at it through new eyes because they are in love.
They visit museums and gardens. They go to Coney Island and take ferry rides to Staten Island together. They have candle-light dinner dates where Annie gets Liza to try unfamiliar Italian foods. It’s beautiful.
Somewhere around the latter part of the book, Liza and Annie become ‘lovers’ (new-age vocabulary like ‘partners’ didn’t seem to have been in use back then). However, there is no overt eroticism. That makes this an ideal book for teens as an introduction to gay love.
What struck me most was how things have changed since then, if not in the real world, at least in pop culture. We have books like Red White and Royal Blue and Aristotle and Dante and a gorgeously delightful Heartstopper (On Netflix. Have you watched it, yet?).
It’s heartening to see that things are changing, though when it will all percolate down to real life, remains to be seen.
Last thought: Definitely worth a read.