Annie on My Mind, by Nancy Garden
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Release Date: July 1982
Re-release: September 5, 2017
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This groundbreaking book, first published in 1982, is the story of two teenage girls whose friendship blossoms into love and who, despite pressures from family and school that threaten their relationship, promise to be true to each other and their feelings.
Of the author and the book, the Margaret A. Edwards Award committee said, “Nancy Garden has the distinction of being the first author for young adults to create a lesbian love story with a positive ending. Using a fluid, readable style, Garden opens a window through which readers can find courage to be true to themselves.”
Friends to Lovers
Content Warning for:
This review contains spoilers.
I had seen Annie on My Mind around my local bookstores and libraries for years, especially after I came out as a queer woman. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it, but I’m glad I did. I’d give it six stars if I could.
The book starts with easily one of the most riveting hints of foreshadowing I’ve ever read. Liza/Eliza Winthrop is speaking in the third person about a letter she wrote to Annie, and that makes you think something happened between the two, but Garden wrote it in such a way that it keeps you interested and immediately intrigued.
We then go back to the first person and the present time with Liza noting a lesson she learned from English teacher Ms. Widmer: “the best way to begin a story is to start with the first important or exciting incident and then fill in the background.” So, naturally, she starts with when she meets Annie, the girl who changes everything, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
From their first meeting, you can tell that Liza and Annie are basically made for each other – even if they don’t realize exactly how they feel just yet. I loved how Garden wrote about their confusing yet conflicting feelings. There were several parts in the book where Liza noted her feelings for Annie were more than just platonic, and while they were new feelings to her, she wanted every single part of it. There were also several parts in the book where I commented something on the lines of SQUEEEEE (sorry and thanks to my partner for putting up with that).
The book was first published in July of 1982, but there are several parts of the book that still remain true today. For example, Liza is the ideal child. She gets straight A’s at private school Foster Academy while serving as student council president with hopes of getting into MIT in the fall. Annie quickly becomes her first close friend, so Liza finds herself in unfamiliar territory – having to balance school and family life with her personal life. We all do this daily, but it’s particularly difficult for queer people – especially if they’re in the closet.
This brings me to my next point. While the definition of their relationship is unclear, Liza and Annie both know that people & society would frown upon it. So they begin to tiptoe, trying to keep their budding feelings a secret to the outside world. Though it was a necessary move for the two, it broke my heart to read about them staying in the closet for their safety. Unfortunately, that is still the case for many people in the LGBTQIA+ community some 35 years after the book’s initial publishing.
On a lighter happier note, the scene where Liza and Annie share their first kiss is quite simply the best first-kiss scene I’ve ever read. There’s sappiness, hesitation, heartbreak, and giving in to temptation all in one. It will take you on an emotional roller coaster, but nothing compared to the ride you’ll be on for the rest of the book.
Liza volunteers to take care of the cats owned by teachers Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer while they go out of town for Spring Break. She and Annie adorably make it a home of their own, even buying food and coffee for each other. They also discuss intimacy – and the several times they try to get closer (SO GOOD, SO WELL DONE) – until they finally give in. “I remember so much about that first time with Annie that I am numb with it, and breathless,” Liza says. “We can be almost like one.” My heart!
Of course my heart broke again later in the book, when Foster Academy administrator Ms. Baxter eventually finds Liza and Annie in bed toward the tail-end of the break. Appalled beyond belief, she calls them many evil names (cw: homophobia), which only continue when Ms. Stevenson and Ms. Widmer return home. Surprise; they’re lesbians too. Liza is quickly forced to come clean about her relationship with Annie, and…she sort of does. Sort of doesn’t. It’s complicated, but it’s beautifully written.
I don’t want to give them away, but the ending scenes in the book made me cry happy tears, and the letters placed in the book from present-day Liza are a big reason behind that. Anyone and everyone should read Annie on My Mind. I’m thankful that Nancy Garden wrote the book when she did. May she continue to rest in power – and may you all be as happy as Liza and Annie one day.
Nancy Garden (1938–2014) is the author of the groundbreaking LGBT novel Annie on My Mind, as well as numerous other works of young adult fiction. She also wrote the YA nonfiction book Hear Us Out!, several novels for children, and the picture book Molly’s Family. Garden received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.