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Two Teenage Girls Discover Love and Heartbreak in This Coming of Age Story

Nancy Garden’s "Annie on My Mind" was revolutionary when it was published in the 1980s, and continues to resonate with readers today.

Upon its publication in 1982, Annie on My Mind was a groundbreaking coming of age novel. It follows the relationship of Liza and Annie, two teenage girls who meet on one fateful day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Their connection is instant. Though they're from opposite sides of the tracks, both young women are talented and have bright futures ahead of them. Their friendship quickly evolves into more. 

Nancy Garden's novel depicts the challenges the girls face in the homophobic atmosphere of the 80s. But despite outside pressures, Liza and Annie eventually learn that it only matters what they think of their relationship. Though the book was met with much criticism, and was included on the American Library Association's 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 1990-1999, Annie on My Mind has never been out of print.  

This beautiful and heart-wrenching story is one that will stay with readers forever. You’ll be drawn into Liza and Annie’s relationship, becoming as hopeful as they are. 

Read on for an excerpt from Annie on My Mind, and then download the book. 

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Annie on My Mind

By Nancy Garden

Annie on My Mind

By Nancy Garden

So I’m going to start with the rainy Sunday last November when I met Annie Kenyon. I’ve wanted to be an architect since long before I could spell the word, so I’ve always spent a lot of time at museums. That day, to help focus my ideas for the solar house I was designing for my senior project, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to visit the Temple of Dendur and the American Wing.

The museum was so full of people I decided to start with the American Wing, because it’s sometimes less crowded, especially up on the third floor where I wanted to go. And at first it seemed as if that was going to be true. When I got to the top of the stairs, everything was so quiet that I thought there might even be no one there at all—but as I started walking toward the colonial rooms, I heard someone singing. I remember I stood and listened for a minute and then went toward the sound, mostly out of curiosity, but also because whoever it was had a wonderful voice.

There was a girl about my age—seventeen—sitting at a window in one of the oldest colonial rooms, singing and gazing outside. Even though I knew that the only thing outside that window was a painted backdrop, there was something about the girl, the gray cape she was wearing, and the song she was singing, that made it easy to imagine “Plimoth” Plantation or Massachusetts Bay Colony outside instead. The girl looked as if she could have been a young colonial woman, and her song seemed sad, at least the feeling behind it did; I didn’t pay much attention to the words.

After a moment or two, the girl stopped singing, although she still kept looking out the window.

“Don’t stop,” I heard myself saying. “Please.”

The girl jumped as if my voice had frightened her, and she turned around. She had very long black hair, and a round face with a small little-kid’s nose and a sad-looking mouth—but it was her eyes I noticed most. They were as black as her hair and they looked as if there was more behind them than another person could possibly ever know.

“Oh,” she said, putting her hand to her throat—it was a surprisingly long, slender hand, in contrast to the roundness of her face. “You startled me! I didn’t know anyone was there.” She pulled her cape more closely around her.

annie on my mind excerpt
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photo Credit: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

“It was beautiful, the singing,” I said quickly, before I could feel self-conscious. I smiled at her; she smiled back, tentatively, as if she were still getting over being startled. “I don’t know what that song was, but it sounded just like something someone would have sung in this room.”

The girl’s smile deepened and her eyes sparkled for just a second. “Oh, do you really think so?” she said. “It wasn’t a real song—I was just making it up as I went along. I was pretending that I was a colonial girl who missed England—you know, her best friend, things like that. And her dog—she’d been allowed to take her cat but not her dog.” She laughed. “I think the dog’s name was something terribly original like Spot.”

I laughed, too, and then I couldn’t think of anything more to say.

The girl walked to the door as if she were going to leave, so I quickly said, “Do you come here often?” Immediately I felt myself cringe at how dumb it sounded.

She didn’t seem to think it was dumb. She shook her head as if it were a serious question and said, “No. I have to spend a lot of time practicing, only that gets dull sometimes.” She tossed her hair back over the shoulder of her cape. The cape fell open a little and I could see that under it she was wearing a very uncolonial pair of green corduroy jeans and a brown sweater.

“Practicing?” I asked. “Singing, you mean?”

She nodded and said in an offhand way, “I’m in this special group at school. We keep having to give recitals. Do you come here often?” She was standing fairly close to me now, leaning against the door frame, her head tipped a little to one side.

I told her I did and explained about wanting to be an architect and about the solar house. When I said I was going to the Temple of Dendur, she said she’d never seen it except from outside the museum, and asked, “Mind if I come?”

I was surprised to find that I didn’t; I usually like to be by myself in museums, especially when I’m working on something. “No,” I said. “Okay—I mean, no, I don’t mind.”

We walked all the way downstairs, me feeling kind of awkward, before I had the sense to say, “What’s your name?”

“Annie Kenyon,” she said. “What … what’s that?”

I said “Liza Winthrop” before I realized that wasn’t what she’d asked. We’d just gotten to the medieval art section, which is a big open room with a magnificent choir screen—an enormous gold-painted wrought-iron grating—running across the whole back section. Annie stood in front of it, her eyes very bright.

“It’s from a Spanish cathedral,” I said, showing off. “1668…”

“It’s beautiful,” Annie interrupted. She stood there silently, as if in awe of the screen, and then bowed her head. Two or three people coming in glanced at her curiously and I tried to tell myself it was ridiculous for me to feel uneasy. You could walk away, I remember thinking; you don’t know this person at all. Maybe she’s crazy. Maybe she’s some kind of religious fanatic.

But I didn’t walk away, and in a couple of seconds she turned, smiling. “I’m sorry,” she said as we left the room, “if I embarrassed you.”

“That’s okay,” I said.

Even so, I led Annie fairly quickly to the Hall of Arms and Armor, which I usually go through on my way to the temple. The Hall is one of my favorite parts of the museum—one is greeted at its door by a life-sized procession of knights in full armor, on horseback. The first knight has his lance at the ready, pointed straight ahead, which means right at whoever walks in.

Annie seemed to love it. I think that’s one of the first things that made me decide I really did like her, even though she seemed a little strange. “Oh—look!” she exclaimed, walking around the procession. “Oh—they’re wonderful!” She walked faster, flourishing an imaginary lance, and then began prancing as if she were on horseback herself.

Part of me wanted to join in; as I said, I’ve always loved those knights myself, and besides, I’d been a King Arthur nut when I was little. But the other part of me was stiff with embarrassment. 

“Annie,” I began, in the warning voice my mother used to use when my brother and I got too exuberant as children. But by then Annie had pretended to fall off her horse, dropping her lance. She drew an imaginary sword so convincingly I knew I was admiring her skill in spite of myself, and then when she cried, “En garde! Stand and fight or I’ll run you through!” I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep from smiling much longer. “If you do not fight me, knight,” she said, “you will rue the day that ever you unhorsed me here in this green wood!”

I had to laugh then, her mood was so catching. Besides, by then I’d noticed that the only other people around were a couple of little boys at the opposite end of the Hall. In the next minute I completely stopped resisting. I imagined a horse and leapt down from it, crying in my best King Arthur style, “I will not fight an unhorsed knight and me mounted. But now that I am on the ground, you will not live to tell the tale of this day’s battle!” I pretended to throw aside my lance and draw a sword, too.

“Nor you!” cried Annie with a lack of logic that we laughed about later. “Have at you, then!” she shouted, swiping at me with her sword.

In another minute we were both hopping in and out of the procession of knights, laying about with our imaginary swords and shouting chivalrous insults at each other. After about the third insult, the little boys left the other end of the Hall and came over to watch us.

“I’m for the one in the cape!” one of them shouted. “Go, Cape!”

“I’m not,” said his friend. “Go, Raincoat!”

Annie and I caught each other’s eyes and I realized that we were making a silent agreement to fight on till the death for the benefit of our audience. The only trouble was, I wasn’t sure how we were going to signal each other which one of us was going to die and when.

“Here—what’s going on here? Stop that, you two, this instant—old enough to know better, aren’t you?” I felt a strong hand close around my shoulder and I turned and saw the uniform of a museum guard topped by a very red, very angry face.

“We’re terribly sorry, sir,” Annie said, with a look of such innocence I didn’t see how anyone could possibly be angry at her. “The knights are so—so splendid! I’ve never seen them before—I got carried away.”

“Harrumph!” the guard said loosening his hold on my shoulder and saying again, “Old enough to know better, both of you.” He glared at the two little boys, who by now were huddled together, mouths wide open. “Don’t let this give you any ideas,” he roared after them as they scurried off like a pair of frightened field mice. When they were gone, the guard scowled at us again—his forehead scowled, that is, but his eyes didn’t look angry. “Darn good fight,” he grunted. “Ought to do Shakespeare in the Park, you two. But no more,” he said, shaking his finger. “Not here—understand?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” Annie said contritely, and I nodded, and we stood there practically holding our breaths as he lumbered away. The second he was gone, we both burst out laughing.

“Oh, Liza,” Annie said, “I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun.”

“Neither do I,” I said truthfully. “And, hey, guess what? I wasn’t even embarrassed, except right at the beginning.”

Then a funny thing happened. We looked at each other, really looked, I mean, for the first time, and for a moment or two I don’t think I could have told anyone my name, let alone where I was. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, and I think—I know—it scared me.

It was a bit longer before I could speak, and even then all I could say was “Come on—the temple’s this way.”

We went silently through the Egyptian section, and I watched Annie’s face as we walked into the Sackler Wing and she saw the Temple of Dendur, with the pool and open space in front of it. It’s a sight that stuns most people, and it still stuns me, even though I’ve been there many times. It’s the absence of shadows, I think, and the brightness—stark and pure, even on a day as rainy as that one was. Light streams in through glass panels that are as open as the sky and reflects from the pool, making the temple’s present setting seem as vast and changeable as its original one on the river Nile must have been thousands of years ago.

Annie gasped as soon as we walked in. “It’s outdoors!” she said. “Like it, I mean. But—but exactly like it.” She threw out her arms as if embracing all of it, and let out her breath in an exasperated sigh, as if she were frustrated at not being able to find the right words.

“I know,” I said; I’d never felt I’d found the right words, either—and Annie smiled. Then, her back very straight, she walked slowly around the pool and up to the temple as if she were the goddess Isis herself, inspecting it for the first time and approving.

When she came back, she stood so close to me our hands would have touched if we’d moved them. “Thank you,” she said softly, “for showing me this. The choir screen, too.” She stepped back a little. “This room seems like you.” She smiled. “Bright and clear. Not somber like me and the choir screen.”

“But you’re …” I stopped, realizing I was about to say beautiful—surprised at thinking it, and confused again.

Annie’s smile deepened as if she’d heard my thought, but then she turned away. “I should go,” she said. “It’s getting late.”

“Where do you live?” The words slipped out before I could think much about them. But there didn’t seem any reason not to ask.

“Way uptown,” Annie said, after hesitating a moment. “Here …” She pushed her cape back and groped in a pocket, pulling out a pencil stub and a little notebook. She scribbled her address and phone number, tore the page off, and handed it to me. “Now you have to give me yours.”

I did, and then we just sort of chatted as we walked back through the Egyptian section and outside into the rain. I don’t remember what we said; but I do remember feeling that something important had happened, and that words didn’t matter much.

In a few more minutes, Annie was on a crosstown bus, and I was heading in the opposite direction to get the IRT subway home to Brooklyn. I was halfway home before I realized I hadn’t done any thinking about my solar-house project at all.

Want to keep reading? Download Annie on My Mind today!

Annie on My Mind

By Nancy Garden

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Featured photo: Björn Simon / Unsplash  

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Published on 02 Mar 2018

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