Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Incredibly true adventure of two girls in love

Since I wasn't reading teen literature 25 years ago, I'm not sure I can fully appreciate the groundbreaking quality of Nancy Garden's Annie on My Mind. But I certainly read my share of trashy fiction, so I'm sure some gay or lesbian characters met a bloody end in my youthful reading (if they did, though, their sexual orientation probably sailed a goodly distance over my extremely naive head). I was expecting this to be a bit of a clunker -- perhaps even a hilariously dated message novel, but I was pleasantly surprised. Liza and her girlfriend Annie were a little swoony, a little whiney ... but hey! so is Bella Swan (in spades!).

In Annie on My Mind, Liza -- quietly overachieving at her private Brooklyn high school -- meets Annie -- public school girl from the low-rent part of the Upper West Side -- at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She falls for her because she likes the Temple of Dendur. The two girls embark on what everyone perceives as an intense friendship, but soon they realize that they wish to be more than friends. Over spring break, they find themselves trysting at the home of two of Liza's teachers -- ostensibly Liza was feeding the cats -- when they (and their teachers) are outed as "practicing" homosexuals. The homophobic, control-freak headmistress compels Liza to defend herself at a hearing of her school's board of governors and the girls' romance can't seem to survive the exposure.

Liza is telling us this story in a flashback format: She's now midway through her freshman year at MIT, and she's writing another long letter to Annie (enrolled at Berkeley) that she ultimately won't mail to her. Her reminiscences, though, enable her to pick up the phone. There is no car crash (that was the previous post!).

The audiobook is part of the book's 25th anniversary repackaging (the anniversary was in 2007), and is narrated by Rebecca Lowman. (It's interesting to look at some of the covers of the previous editions. According to Wikipedia, the cover with the girls' profiles is the author's favorite.) I think it was Lowman's reading that kept the 1980s melodrama at bay. She focused on the romance between the two girls, not the message behind it, and created and sustained unique characters for both Annie and Liza. Both sounded like believable young women: Liza confusedly in love and Annie a freer spirit. If the lesbian teachers, Miss Stevenson and Miss Widmer, and the homophobes, Mrs. Poindexter and Ms. Baxter, were a tad on the dramatic side ... well, they were drawn that way. Lowman convinced me of the humanness of this story, it was never caricatured or belittled.

The audio version includes a conversation between Nancy Garden and Kathleen T. Horning (actually, it's more like each is reading the questions and answers they produced for the 2007 edition of the book). Garden shares a lot of her personal story in the conversation, and her perspective on GLBTQ fiction for teens was very interesting. In discussing Annie's status as a frequently challenged book, Garden mentions that the first library challenge she heard about for Annie was right here in Portland in 1988. I wonder if this was at my library. I'm not in Portland right now, but I'm going to try and remember to ask our selector if she's got info on this.

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