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Annie John

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Overview

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...

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Annie John: A Novel

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Overview

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."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"So touching and familiar it could be happening to any of us . . . and that's exactly the book's strength, its wisdom, its truth."—The New York Times Book Review

"So neon-bright that the traditional story of a young girl's passage into adolescence takes on a shimmering strangeness."—Elaine Kendall, The Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374525101
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 6/30/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 148
  • Sales rank: 82,464
  • Product dimensions: 5.46 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.43 (d)

Meet 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.

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Read an Excerpt

For a short while during the year I was ten, I thought only people I did not know died. At the time I thought this I was on my summer holidays and we were living far out on Fort Road. Usually, we lived in our house on Dickenson Bay Street, a house my father built with his own hands, but just now it needed a new roof and so we were living in a house out on Fort Road. We had only two neighbors, Mistress Mayvard and her husband. That summer, we had a pig that had just had piglets; some guinea fowl; and some ducks that laid enormous eggs that mother said were big even for ducks. I hated to eat any food except for the enormous duck eggs, hardboiled. I had nothing to do every day except to feed the birds and the pig in the morning and in the evening. I spoke to one one other than my parents, and sometimes to Mistress Maynard, if I saw her when I went to pick up the peelings of vegetables which my mother had asked her to save for the pig, which was just the thing the pig really liked. From our yard, I could see the cemetery. I did not know it was the cemetery until one day when I said to my mother that sometimes in the evening, while feeding the pig, I could see various small, sticklike figures, some dressed in black, some dressed in white, bobbing up and down in the distance. I noticed, too, that sometimes the black and white sticklike figures appeared in the morning. My mother said that it was probably a child being buried, since children were always buried in the morning. Until then, I had not known that children died.

I was afraid of the dead, as was everyone I knew. We were afraid of the dead because we never could tell when they might show up again. Sometimes they showed up in a dream, but that wasn't so bad, because they usually only brought a warning, and in any case you wake up from a dream. But sometimes they would show up standing under a tree just as you were passing by. Then they might follow you home, and even though they might not be able to come into your house, they might wait for you and follow you wherever you went; in that case, they would never give up until you joined them. My mother knew of many people who had died in such a way. My mother knew of many people who had died, including her own brother.

After I found out about the cemetery, I would stand in my yard and wait for a funeral to come. Some days, there were no funerals. "No one died," I would say to my mother. Some days, just as I was about to give up and go inside, I would see the small specks appear. "What made them so late?" I would ask my mother. Probably someone couldn't bear to see the coffin lid put in place, and so as a favor the undertaker might let things go on too long, she said. The undertaker! On our way into town, we would pass the undertaker's workshop. Outside, a little sign read "Straffee & Sons, Undertakers & Cabinetmakers." I could always tell we were approaching this place, because of the smell of pitch pine and varnish in the air.

Later, we moved back to our house in town, and I no longer had a view of the cemetery. Still no one I knew had died. One day, a girl smaller than I, a girl whose mother was a friend of my mother's, died in my mother's arms. I did not know this girl at all, though I may have got a glimpse of her once or twice as I passed her and her mother coming out of our yard, and I tried to remember everything I had heard about her. Her name was Nalda; she had red hair; she was very bony; she did not like to eat any food. In fact, she liked to eat mud, and her mother always had to keep a strict eye on her to prevent her from doing that. Her father made bricks, and her mother dressed in a way that my father found unbecoming. I heard my mother describe to my father just how Nalda had died: she had a fever, they noticed a change in her breathing, so they called a car and were rushing her off to Dr. Bailey when, just as they were crossing over a bridge, she let out a long sigh and went limp. Dr. Bailey pronouncd her dead, and when I heard that I was so glad he wasn't my doctor. My mother asked my father to make the coffin for Nalda, and he did, carving bunches of tiny flowers on the sides. Nalda's mother wept so much that m ymother had to take care of everything, and since children were never prepared by undertakers, my mother had to prepare the little girl to be buried. I then began to look at my mother's hands differently. They had stroked the dead girl's forehead; they had bathed and dressed her and laid her in the coffin my father had made. My mother would come back from the dead girl's house smelling of bay rum—a scent that for a long time afterward would make me feel ill. For a while, though not for very long, I could not bear to have my mother caress me or touch my food or help me with my bath. I especially couldn't bear the sight of her hands lying still in her lap.

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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?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 45 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(24)

3 Star

(9)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(1)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 45 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 10, 2010

    Tomorrow tomorrow I'll love ya tomorrow, wait wrong Annie. This is the Story of Annie John.

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 9, 2010

    Annie John

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 9, 2010

    Not my kind of book

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2010

    I've read better

    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...

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 8, 2010

    Annie John - Real & Relatable

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    Annie John

    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.

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  • Posted June 11, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    ANNIE JOHN, the spunky lesbian little girl that's trying to find her breasts and her womanhood. The "Little Miss" of the family and the hater of her own mother.

    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.

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  • Posted June 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    reds the color

    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.

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  • Posted June 9, 2010

    My own reason for leaving home. ;)

    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.

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  • Posted June 8, 2010

    Annie John - all grown up

    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.

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  • Posted June 9, 2010

    Annie John

    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.

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  • Posted June 8, 2010

    The One and Only Annie John

    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.

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  • Posted June 7, 2010

    Classroom Hauntings

    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.

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  • Posted May 24, 2010

    A touching, and intriguing story of a young girl growing into a woman.

    I found this book was very interesting. It had parts that surprised me and other parts that explains a normal kid. I don't know if I would read this story over again but it wasn't a waste of my time to read it the first time. I also don't think I would recommend it to classrooms but maybe adults with strong opinions and people that want to hear a story of a different persons perspective.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2010

    somethng that will touch you.

    I thought that this was a really good book. I don't like reading a lot of books but I thought that is book was a really good book. It is such a wonderful book. This story had me from the beginning just by the way it touched me. It just was completely a good book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2010

    A captivating story that will have you from the start

    This story had me at the very beginning! I liked the how the author wrote in a way that was easy to understand and had you captivated. This story was of a young girl named Annie and it told of her transforming from a young child into a woman. I was very into this book the whole time I was reading it and for me, it takes a lot to get me to sit down and finish a book. I really enjoyed it!

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  • Posted May 21, 2010

    A Story About Growing Up

    Overall I think Annie John is a good book. There were times throughout the book when I was waiting for something tragic or exciting to happen like most storylines. Then I realized that's not the purpose of this book. Annie John is simply a story about leaving childhood and entering adolescence. As a child, Annie's mother was her entire world, but by the end of the story she can hardly stand to be in the same room as her. Before, she had overwhelming feelings of love and adoration for her girlfriends, especially Gwen. At seventeen all she feels is embarassment for those feelings and for giving so much of herself to her former friend. This story shows that it's difficult growing up and experiencing not only physical changes, but a change in thoughts and attitudes as well.

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  • Posted May 18, 2010

    Annie John..a story of a girl!

    Annie John is a novel about a young girl and what her life was like growing up. As a child Annie and her mother were very close, not just as mother and daughter, but also as close friends. They liked to dress alike, and went almost everywhere together. Once Annie began to grow into her teenage years, she noticed how her relationship with her mom had changed. Her mom was no longer her closest friend, but now someone that she could hardly stand being around. Annie started making new friends, and slowly started sneaking around to see them. She also began to play games that she was not allowed to as well as lie to her mother and steal books from her local library. When Annie moved away once becoming an adult, I believe that she was hoping for the old friendship to come back with her mom, but when they said their goodbyes they simply walked away.

    I think that this book was well written, and had a way to keep you interested. My only problem I had while reading through it, was that the length of each chapter was too long for me. Each chapter was at least 15 pages long and in my opinion, I prefer shorter chapters so that you can move on to other incidents throughout the book without getting bored. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars because I think the book had good context, but the outline could have been better.

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  • Posted May 17, 2010

    I LOVE THIS BOOK

    Annie John was a good but confusing book that tests the bounderies of mom-and daughter relationships. The subject of "DEATH" is a big part in this book. Annie is trying to understand why and what death means. I really enjoy how this book toys with the sexual orientation of Annie and what she thinks of other people. The constant strain between Annie and her mom slowly gets worse as Annie ages and matures. This is a great book for all ages and I highly recommend it to all.

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  • Posted May 17, 2010

    i had one problem with this book

    Ok so this was a great book. I personally can relate and I believe that several others can too. My interpretation of the book was a young girl growing and maturing in a sheltered life style and not being able to express her choices or feelings with those that she is close to. She tended to have a moody change in her life throughout the book. My problem though was that she was a coloured girl living in Antigau. Its not that her race, skin colour, or birthplace bothered me, it was that from the text throughtout the book I personally could not, in any way, see her as a coloured girl, let alone see the surroundings as a coloured environment, because the amount of evidence of colonization in Antigau. but I did enjoy it and would recommend it to any of whom feel that they need to see life in a different perspective.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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