About the Book:
Annie and Liza are seniors in high school when their paths first happen to cross at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are immediately drawn to one another, inexplicably, and they quickly become close friends. Though their backgrounds are different–Liza attends private Foster Academy and comes from a well-off family, while Annie’s school is public and her immigrant family shares a small apartment–the girls soon realize they might be falling in love.
But the beginning of their story isn’t where we first encounter Annie and Liza. Instead, we meet Liza, in her first year at MIT, distracted from her studies by thoughts of Annie, in California, and of the mysterious series of events that drove them apart. As Liza finally lets herself revisit her last year at Foster Academy, the story of Liza and Annie unfurls.
Annie on My Mind was one of the first novels for teens to feature gay characters in a positive way.
I really loved Annie on My Mind. I found myself making up excuses to listen to it, like I always do when I’ve come across an especially entrancing audiobook. It felt, to me, like a fragile story, like a bird’s egg cupped in my hand. It was everything a love story should be: no gimmicks, no triangles, no supernatural creatures, just two young people discovering love for the first time. I think I loved that best. Though the girls’ sexuality and their discovery and exploration of it was certainly a part of the book, along with the repercussions it had in their worlds, Liza and Annie were first and foremost two characters in love. Their experiences being gay were laid over that strong foundation, creating a book and characters that were multilayered and complex and very real.
To surround Liza and Annie, Garden crafted some wonderful supporting characters. The world the girls inhabited ran the whole gamut of personalities, from supportive and understanding to homophobic and close-minded, and everything in between. These characters gave the reader a fuller story while allowing Garden to explore issues and situations that are both of interest and important. The issues were so well bound up with the characters that I never felt that tension within a novel that comes when an author tries to ascend the soapbox a little too often.
Though Annie on My Mind was first published in 1982, I was surprised to find almost nothing dated about it. There were a couple of moments when I wondered why Annie and Liza weren’t using cell phones. More alarming, as the book progressed, were the ways in which certain key events were handled. I often found myself wondering how such actions could prevail, forgetting the novel isn’t set today. The story felt so contemporary that I had to keep reminding myself it’s nearly 30 years old, that many (though not all) things have changed since its initial publication.
The audiobook was exquisite. Rebecca Lowman’s gentle, thoughtful voice fit Liza’s character like a glove. When Lowman read, Liza spoke. If you’re looking for a good audiobook, I can’t recommend Annie on My Mind highly enough. And as a bonus, there’s a very interesting interview with Nancy Garden following the novel, in which the author talks about her own experience of being gay and how times and literature have changed over the years. She even talks about how Annie on My Mind would be different if she’d written it today, a discussion I found especially fascinating.