When I was reading Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, I posted it with the caption, “A queer classic for your timeline.” Someone corrected me and told me that Jamaica Kincaid said that this was just a coming-of-age story of a girl in Antigua, but respectfully, this is not how I read this story at all!
Annie John tells the story of the title character growing up in Antigua (I am unsure of the time period). She talks about growing up, her friendships, and drifting away from her mother and the traditional role of women she represents.
Throughout the story, we see how Annie’s relationship with the different women in her life shapes her as a person. When she was young, she was very close to her mother. As she enters secondary school, she develops different relationships with the girls in her grade, from intimate friendships to how she is popular among all the girls. With several relationships, they are queer-coded since they are physically intimate and express what seems like romantic love.
Queerness makes the story better, in my opinion. Yes, Annie John bristles against the traditional roles of women in her own feminist way and values female relationships, but I also picked up on themes of pleasure. Annie seeks out and centers her pleasure in a way that felt very radical to me. She experimented with what felt good to her and distanced herself from relationships that no longer felt good to her. I know you can do that without being queer, but queerness added an additional radical element for me. Not only are you going against traditional feminine roles, but centering femininity and girlhood/womanhood in a way without the male gaze. None of the ways she loved needed males, and that was radical.
Besides that powerful theme, this book didn’t do it for me. I love a selfish protagonist with good development, but I didn’t feel invested in her growth as a person, just what she represented. But I feel like this story was mediocre in the way many classics (especially the canonized ones) are. I believe Annie John should be recognized as a classic and studied for its sociological aspects, but I would not recommend it for pleasure reading.