Annie John: A Novel

Annie John: A Novel

by Jamaica Kincaid


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Annie John is a haunting and provocative story of a young girl growing up on the island of Antigua. A classic coming-of-age story in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Kincaid's novel focuses on a universal, tragic, and often comic theme: the loss of childhood. Annie's voice—urgent, demanding to be heard—is one that will not soon be forgotten by readers.

An adored only child, Annie has until recently lived an idyllic life. She is inseparable from her beautiful mother, a powerful presence, who is the very center of the little girl's existence. Loved and cherished, Annie grows and thrives within her mother's benign shadow. Looking back on her childhood, she reflects, "It was in such a paradise that I lived." When she turns twelve, however, Annie's life changes, in ways that are often mysterious to her. She begins to question the cultural assumptions of her island world; at school she instinctively rebels against authority; and most frighteningly, her mother, seeing Annie as a "young lady," ceases to be the source of unconditional adoration and takes on the new and unfamiliar guise of adversary. At the end of her school years, Annie decides to leave Antigua and her family, but not without a measure of sorrow, especially for the mother she once knew and never ceases to mourn. "For I could not be sure," she reflects, "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."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374525101
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 06/30/1997
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 36,359
Product dimensions: 5.46(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.43(d)
Age Range: 11 - 18 Years

About the Author

Jamaica Kincaid's books include At the Bottom of the River, Annie John, A Small Place, Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother, My Brother, and, most recently, Mr. Potter. She lives in Vermont.

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

1. The story Annie John tells is related entirely from Annie's point of view. The narrative is obviously not objective. Do you think it is truthful? Or do you think that it distorts events? If so, what is the author's purpose in distorting them?

2. It has been said that, as an author, Jamaica Kincaid makes no concessions to convention or sentimentality. What might be meant by that comment, and how does it apply to Annie John? Do you respond to the tone she establishes and see it as honest, or do you find her tone excessively harsh and unforgiving? Defend your answer.

3. How is the parent-child struggle—the struggle between power and lack of power—extended to other conflicts within the novel? Can you discern the theme of power and its abuses in the novel's presentation of the colonial subjugation of the island of Antigua, of the ruling British versus the subject Antiguans? If so, provide examples.

4. Annie John, like many narratives of adolescence, is a story about a young person finding her own identity, separate from that of her parents. At what point in the story does Annie realize that she has a separate identity from that of her mother? How does she assert it? Why is this assertion so painful to her?

5. Annie lies to her parents and becomes an accomplished thief, stealing books from the library and money from her mother. What is your reaction to these acts? Do they change your feelings about Annie? Do you admire her for her honesty in telling about this, or do you find the moral climate she establishes offensive?

6. How would you describe Annie's school and the kind of education she receives? Do you find the imposition of a British curriculum on Caribbean children absurd or in any way admirable? What kind of outlook on the world, and on their place in it, does it give these children?

7. As Kincaid tells the story, she relates it as an expulsion from Paradise. What was the original expulsion from Paradise? Who was expelled and why? What do the references to Lucifer and Paradise Lost indicate to you?

8. After school, Annie and her friends sit on the tombstones "of long-dead people who had been the masters of our ancestors" (p.50). What other references does the book give to Antigua's history of slavery? Does the history of her people and her island explain anything about Annie's character that might otherwise seem strange to you?

9. Annie says, "I could see how Ruth felt from looking at her face. Her ancestors had been the masters, while ours had been the slaves. She had such a lot to be ashamed of, and by being with us every day she was always being reminded. We could look everybody in the eye, for our ancestors had done nothing wrong except just sit somewhere, defenseless" (p.76). Annie reflects, "If the tables had been turned we would have acted differently." Do you believe that Ruth should feel responsible for what her ancestors did, or that the other girls should feel virtuous? Do you think that Kincaid herself believes what she has Annie say? Consider the manner in which both slavery and colonialism are depicted in this novel.

10. Annie's three-month illness changes her deeply; she seems a different person after her recovery. In what ways has she changed, physically and emotionally?

11. By the end of the book, Annie has rejected every aspect of her home and childhood: "As I was lying there my heart could have burst open with joy at the thought of never having to see any of it again" (p.132). Is this sort of rejection an inevitable part of the process of growing up? Or is Annie's hostility and rejection unusually extreme? If so, why?

12. Though Annie is more or less a grown-up by the end of the book, does she ever fully accept that fact? Does she see herself as independent and adult, or does she still think of herself as a child?

13. Jamaica Kincaid has said that her leaving Antigua "was a means of personal liberation" (NOW, 10/12/89). Why do you think Kincaid was only able to find liberation by leaving home? Is Annie the same in this way? Can you think of any other literary characters who, like Annie, make this move almost from necessity?

14. To what extent are Annie's experiences and emotions universal, and to what extent are they individual products of her own personality, family, and environment? Do you feel that you have a lot in common with her? What aspects of her life resemble your own?

Customer Reviews

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Annie John 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
CaseyStepaniuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jamacia Kincaid's writing style is deceptively simple; there are few adjectives, for example, in her prose, so that when she does use one, it seems to leap out at and lunge for you from the page. Her words somehow slip under your skin unbeknowst to you and make their way into your guts, heart, or head, depending on where she wants them to hit you. This coming of age story doesn't shy away from those dark, scary impulses of the human mind, nor does the novel even try to explain or resolve them. Annie is first fascinated and obsessed with death, stalking strangers' funerals. A once passionate, homoerotic relationship with a schoolmate turns sour and dull. Annie's early adoration for her mother slowly morphs into jealous, visceral hatred. When she eventually leaves Antigua--she says forever, although that's not what her parents think--you're unsure if she really means it, or if things are going to go as she plans. You're not even sure if you want things to go well for her. But I wanted to find out what happened next in Annie's life; I wanted to read more seemingly unrelated meandering chapters detailing her fraught relationships with other girls at her school. This want, I conclude, means that Jamacia Kincaid has done something disarming and powerful here in this short, slim novel simply named after its protagonist.
BookwormWithMcIntyre6th More than 1 year ago
Some parents more than others have an incredible impact on their children. In my opinion, Annie John is an example of this. Annie John is a young girl who has always had a pleasant life because of her parents. She is especially loved by her mother who she's always with and respects the most as a little girl. Around the age of twelve however, Annie is no longer just a little girl. She's becoming a woman with her own opinions and ideas about life. Living on Antigua her whole life, she only knows the island culture she was taught. So with her own ideas comes uncertainty about the only way of life Annie has ever been taught. Being only human, she has questions about life that because of her strict culture she feels can only be answered by leaving her family and Antigua. And when she finishes school, Annie chooses to do this and becomes detached from her family. I feel sort of ridiculous because I often think I can relate to characters I read about, but this really was the case with Annie John. I know what its like to grow up I guess and realize things that have always been, just gone unnoticed. This is why I sort of look up to Annie, because in the end she decided to do something about it for herself. I definitely recommend this book to others. It wasn't very difficult to read, and I think teenage girls especially would enjoy it.
JessicaWale More than 1 year ago
Annie John is a little girl who loves her parents very much. Her and her mother do everything together and Annie obeys and respects her mother always. As Annie grows up and starts school, she becomes first in her class and is liked by all her teachers and most girls wanted to be friends with her. One girl named Gwen catches her attention and they become the best of friends. Once Annie turns 12 her world changes. Her mother distances herself from Annie and Annie becomes annoyed by Gwen. Annie becomes ill and once it passes, she leaves Antigua and heads to England to be away from her family. I think this story was a easy but good read. I enjoyed the characters and Annies character made me want to continue to read and find out what happens to her. I would recommend this book for others to read.
FR-A_6th More than 1 year ago
This book was kinda boring, but it was about testing the strength of a relationship between mother and daughter. In the beginning Annie is trying to understand what "death" really meant and how it would never hapen to someone she knew. It shows how any mother and daughter go through life with their ups and downs and how they get through the "teenage" years. I am not much for books, but I really did enjoy this one.
SCARTER More than 1 year ago
Annie John was a well written book about a young girl who becomes disconnected with her parents after being sheltered by them. It seems to me that after Annie reaches a curtain stage in her life, her and her mother's relationship deteriorates. When Annie's mother tells her she is becoming a women she treats her differently and Annie begins to feel as though she is alone and without the love that she feared losing throughout her childhood. Although this book shows the disconnection of a mother daughter relationship, it also shows how close the two can be. Annie John also shows a young girl coming of age and the growth of a teenager. Being a male, I personally cannot relate to Annie John's situation but I believe I hold a good understanding. Jamaica Kincaid has done a wonderful putting the reader into the characters shoes. I would definitely recommend this to all readers, simply the story is so real. Many people around the world are able to easily relate to not only how Annie but how her mother feels as well. Also, I feel that many readers are able to be intrigued by this book because it takes place in a country other than America or England. It shows readers a different part of the world.
uurev More than 1 year ago
I recently compiled a list of the books that have meant the most to me, in my fifty plus years of reading. This book made the top ten. It's so true to the thoughts and feelings and actions of a pre-adolescent/barely adolescent girl (and in fact it is a fictionalized account of the author's own girlhood). It tells the story of a particular child in a particular place (a Caribbean island that has been colonized by the English) in a particular time; the reader can both relate to what is universal and marvel at what is different from the reader's own experience. The deceptively simple prose has a lyrical beauty. The book is short, but memorable; it lingers.
Knicke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this book a lot. Sort of Hemingway-esque in the prose style at times, but also burgeoning with sense memories. Lost a star because at times the reading became less pleasurable, but only because the author was so adept at reminding me how much adolescence SUCKS regardless of your relationship with your parents.The parts I found most arresting: when the daughter's perception of the mother was still liminal/in flux and kept switching back and forth between lovely and terrible. The need to keep secrets just for the sake of having some separation/privacy. The intensity and instability of adolescent friendships. This would be crazy-good to do as part of a teenage girl bookgroup, or even as a mother-daughter bookgroup - but alas, the bits about exposing one's body (though, I thought, realistic and actually somewhat tame) would likely have most of the suburban moms around here in an uproar.
Prop2gether on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to like this book, but found Annie not appealing in the least. Perhaps if another character had narrated the story, it would have worked better, but Annie is bright, inquisitive, and eager to broaden her horizons--no matter what. As a result of her ambitions, Annie is mean, she steals, she lies to family and friends, and, as the story ends, she is leaving the one home she's always known for new adventures--but I didn't care by that point. Well written, with a great turn of phrase, but the story just did not connect for me.
bookworm12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This coming-of-age story follows a young girl, Annie, as she grows up on the island of Antigua. There are eight episodes, each a picture of Annie's life as she tries to understand the world around her. Annie wasn't a likeable character, though I suppose few young teenage girls are likeable in real life. So in that way Kincaid's portrayal of the girl felt very real, but at the same time, it's hard to love such a selfish and often cruel character. Annie has a tendency to become obsessed with her friends. She lets one girl become the focus of her world and then, just as quickly, she loses interest in her and moves on. Kincaid has said in interviews that she never meant for Annie's character to be interpreted as gay, but at the same time, the relationships feel more like crushes than friendships. As a child Annie idolizes her mother, but as she grows older she begins to hate her. She develops a deep resentment of her mother and never overcomes it. The book skirts around many issues and in doing so left me wanting. It touches on depression, giving the reader a glimpse of that condition in Annie, but just as quickly drops it. Overall it was an interesting read, but didn't really work for me. If the basic story sounds good I'd recommend, The Meaning of Consuelo and The House on Mango Street. I enjoyed both of those books more than Annie John and they have similar premises.
wandering_star on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book covers eight episodes in the life of a young woman growing up in Antigua. We see her as a young child, idolising her beautiful mother - then an angry adolescent, who can't quite understand or believe the words that come out of her own mouth when she and that mother clash.The stories are told with a child's vocabulary, and some of them are very atmospheric - there is an extremely effective description of an illness that Annie suffers (which seems to be a combination of flu and depression).However, for me the book added up to less than the sum of its parts - the episodic nature of the stories, and the simple language, combined to leave it feeling a little insubstantial - like the life of a young niece that you meet every few years for a short time. I would have liked to see more of what made Annie tick, and the development of how she grew up.
harleth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jamaica Kinkaid really takes us deep into the psyche of Annie. The book has a haunting lyrical quality that just stays with you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Annie john is a book that is kinda difficult to understand . Although .. she was a very strange girl who believed that only people she didnt knew only died . And how she wanted to see how dead people looked etc . She was a curios girl.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
CWoods-RAL More than 1 year ago
I've never read a lesbian type book before until I read Annie John. In this story, Annie starts out as a little black girl that loves her mother dearly and wants to become just like her. Soon she is put into school and falls in love with her best friend Gwen. During school hours the girls talk about their body and reveal their body parts to each other. When her achievement in school puts her into a higher grade she looses her friendship and love with Gwen. Her mother becomes less her friend and more as her guideline mother. She has no one to turn to and she must find out who she really is. By the time she's fifteen the drought ends and is replaced by floods of rain. She soon becomes sick and is like that for 3 months, during this time she grows more and more, realizing she's grown into a woman. At sixteen she leaves her home of Antigua destined for England. On her way to the ship she looks back on the life as a child and soon she takes her place as a woman leading into a new life alone. I have to say I enjoyed this book. The beginning was more indulging than the end, because she was a young spunky girl in the beginning, then by the end of the book she became boring. Overall it is a good book and I would recommend it to any women's book club.
alaska4231 More than 1 year ago
i enjoyed this book very much it had a lot of emotion in it annie went through a lot with her mother and father they all have had a loved one die more than once in there lives and have handled it alright annie is a very brave kid saving the red girl from a fire not a lot of kids would do that she helped her parents a lot of the times to which is a great thing even though he parents were a bit controlling of her i love how she can be very independent at times also.
BrittneyRongey More than 1 year ago
Annie John was about a young girl (Annie)who had her own interest against her mothers wishes. Her mother was a very uptight clasey women who played everything by the book and was against rule breaking. Annie of course was the opposite of her mother, Annie was rebellious and broke the rules constantly. Annie's mom made her go to sunday school every sunday unless she was ill. Annie also attended a religious based school with only females. Annie made a friend named gwen who annie's mother very much so approved of but annie fell in love with the "dirty girl". Who Annie's mom did not approve of what so ever this girl played games that girls weren't suppose to play she only showered once a week she was the type of child that mothers wouldn't approve there kids to play with. I thought that this story was told pretty well, certain parts of the story were left open for your mind to decide what the story was trying to tell. Overall I liked this story I wouldn't say it was a favorite but I liked it.
KCinRALCC More than 1 year ago
I liked this book because as you read along with it you can tell that the charecter was growing as you read. One moment you're reading about when she is 5 and has a fling with another girl her age named Gwen, and their fun and journeys together. Then in another moment she is about 15 and growing apart from her mother, like almost every other teenager I know. She is also, at some point, very ill. Ill for about 3 and a half months. And in the last moment she is leaving home to go to England and become a nurse. ", but I remembered that I wasn't a child anymore, and that now when I made up my mind about somethings I had to see it through." This really spoke to me because I can see myself saying that to myself when I leave for college in 2011. This is a really good book for every age because the charecter herself is every age at some point in the book.
Jodi-Picoult-fan More than 1 year ago
This is a story about a young girl going through the stages of becoming her own person. She is attached to her mother, but has to learn to make a name for herself. She does this by rebelling against her mother and collecting marbles and stolen items, like books. I believe that this book is a good illustration of how young women learn to become adults and shows how young women go through the process of separating from their parents to pursue their own interests.
kevinjamessheehy More than 1 year ago
Annie John was a young women who lived with her mother growing up. She went everywhere her mom went; they were attached at the hip. When she turned 12, her life changed dramatically. She begins to wonder about her culteral background and ends up leaving her family. She dreads time away from her mother but she had to leave Antigua, her hometown. Annie Fulfills her journey around the world by herself.
MRLUMBERJACK2009RAL More than 1 year ago
This book was just alright for me. It was hard for me to get a clear picture of things in my head. When I read I play a little movie in my head, but with this book it was like a skipping dvd. Although, this book does illustrate a good understanding of the tensions of a mother/daughter relationship. It could represent any sort of parent/child relationship for me. I perceive Annie to be more of a white cheerleader who has everything she needs and is kind of stuck up because she knows that she is well liked and smarter than everyone. But at the same time she still would stand up for you but more for the praise and attention than for her self. In the end with her getting sick and bedridden, it is represented by the weather. But I think that if you combine her gettting sick and the weather turning bad it is symbolic of her relationship with her mother and how it went from good to bad. Also, how she is like a little kid that wets the bed and needs help eating, I think that that represents how it used to be and how everything was good for them when she was at that age before she got older.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AJB_RAL More than 1 year ago
I'm not really sure about this book. I though it was a good book but i had a hard time picturing that it was based around a colored girls life. It seemed a lot like it was more about a preppy little white girl who seemed to think she was better then everyone else. The book as a whole is ok but it just screams middle class white girl who lives in the suburbs to me...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago