In her monthly column, YA of Yore, Frankie Thomas takes a second look at the books that defined a generation.
Here’s the mystery of Annie on My Mind, the 1982 young adult novel by Nancy Garden: I’ve never met a straight person who’s read it. As far as I can tell, only queer women have read it—and yet I’ve never met one who sought it out on purpose. It comes to us only by accident.
I’m generalizing, I know. But test it out for yourself. Ask your favorite lesbian how she first encountered Annie on My Mind, and you may well hear something like this Amazon review from the year 2001: “Someone gave me this book when I was 17 and wondering who the heck I was. I read it in one sitting, flipped it over and read it again.” Or this one, from 2009: “I was walking down a [library] aisle and just had this funny feeling to pull out this book. Call it crazy, but it felt like the book that I’ve never seen before wanted me to read it.” As if by enchantment, the novel finds its way, often in disguise, to those who don’t know they need it.
It found its way to me in the summer of 2000, when I was thirteen, via the Union Square branch of Barnes & Noble. Back then YA fiction took up just one small shelf, consisting mostly of Francesca Lia Block and the hoax diaries of Beatrice Sparks, so I was quick to notice a book I’d never seen before. The tagline intrigued me: “Liza never knew falling in love could be so wonderful … or so confusing.”
Why did I assume that Liza was in love with a boy, when the book gave no such indication? Its front cover depicted two girls holding hands, their eyes closed, their foreheads tenderly touching. Its back cover, which was a soft-butch shade of salmon pink, featured a short excerpt in which Liza’s mother asked, “Have you and Annie done more than the usual experimenting?” But these things have a way of hiding in plain sight from anyone not actively looking for them. We see what we expect to see. Annie was Liza’s best friend, I thought; the two of them were experimenting with boys. What else could they be doing?
The other possibility, of course, is that I did know. On some level, perhaps, I knew right away.