Annie John

Jamaica Kincaid

A stunning and spare coming-of-age novel, Annie John was originally published in The New Yorker chapter by chapter as separate stories. Kincaid focuses primarily on the internal shifts Annie experiences as she matures, mostly in how she transitions from loving and wanting to emulate her mother to nearly despising her and feeling ambivalent about her life in Antigua. Though Annie is an excellent student, she has a mischievous side; she steals library books and stashes them with all the marbles she has won, hiding all from her mother’s disapproval. She strives to amuse her classmates by any means necessary and has a couple intense friendships which she keeps secret as well, even keeping the friendships distinctly separate from each other. When she finishes school, she departs for England and suppresses her relief to be leaving Antigua and her parents behind, putting on a smile to keep up appearances. At one point she sees her mother out of one eye and her mother’s shadow out of the other:

It was a big and solid shadow, and it looked so much like my mother that I became frightened. For I could not be sure whether for the rest of my life I would be able to tell when it was really my mother and when it was really her shadow standing between me and the rest of the world.

There are parallels between Annie’s and Jamaica Kincaid’s lives so that common question of how fictional these stories is inevitable. The rawness of Annie’s thoughts and feelings only make it more plausible that they were drawn from real-life experiences.