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Meet Annie John. She is our eponymous (SAT word alert: this means "title character") protagonist and the first-person narrator of this short yet creatively meaty coming of age story. Even though Annie John is our title character, she goes unnamed until the third chapter and she doesn't utter her own name until the very last chapter.
Annie John traces Annie's experiences growing up on the island of Antigua under the strict and watchful eyes of her mother. When the book begins, Annie loves and adores her mother like no other. But, this is no ordinary love mind you. It's soul crushing, agonizing infatuation, obsession and enchantment all rolled up into one big love fest. From Annie's ten-year-old point of view, no one matches her mother in beauty and wisdom.
Yeah, yeah, she loves her father too, but it doesn't begin to compare to the feelings for her mother. Sometimes her father, a carpenter, just seems to be there in the backdrop, building things when needed and cracking jokes at family meals. But if young Annie could somehow surgically attach herself to her mother so they would never have to part, she totally would.
There are several deaths that awaken Annie to the tragedies of life and fuel her obsession with all things morbid. At age ten, her family lives in a summerhouse with a view of a cemetery. She learns from her mother that children are buried in the morning. Then, a girl named Nalda dies in her mother's arms. Annie didn't know her personally, but her mother prepares her body for burial and her father builds her coffin. Next, one of Annie's friend's mother dies… and Annie never speaks to her because she thinks that it's "shameful" that her mother would leave her "alone in the world" (1.8). Yeah, little Annie can be a jerk.
Out of curiosity, Annie begins attending funerals because she wants to see the face of a dead person. Finally, a "humpbacked girl" she knows from a different school dies and she rushes to her funeral after school to see her in the coffin.
Annie comes from a family of storytellers. Her father relates the story of how he came to live with his grandmother after his parents left him and her mother often tells her the story of Annie's life using all her baby clothes and childhood mementos as props. All these special mementos her mother saves in a wooden trunk that she brought with her from Dominica. This trunk is super important: for more on it, check out "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory."
Her mother also prepares special, spiritually cleansing baths for them to take together. Annie loves the attention and eats it up. From age ten to twelve, Annie is her mother's shadow on shopping trips and around the house, carrying out the daily chores.<
In the summer of her twelfth year it all changes. Annie walks in on her parents having an intimate moment. Oops. She also starts going through puberty, has a growth spurt and gets her period. Her mother stops coddling her, doesn't allow her to wear matching dresses and says that one day she will have a house of her own to manage because she's "becoming a young lady" (2.15).
In September, Annie starts a new school where she quickly becomes the superstar student. Miss Nelson, their homeroom teacher, praises her "autobiographical essay" and all the other girls in her class now like her. She meets a girl named Gwen and they immediately become bffs. We first hear Annie's name through Gwen's voice when she turns to her in class and asks, "Are you Annie John? We hear you are quite bright" (3.4). It's love at first sight: Annie loves Gwen so intensely at this point in her life that the whole third chapter is about her.
However, the Red Girl bumps Gwen out of her number one friend spot. This girl is adventurous, doesn't have to bathe, is stinky, and rarely brushes her teeth. Annie is enamored. They secretly go to the lighthouse together and Annie perfects her lying, telling her mother she's working on special school projects. Annie starts stealing books from the public library and plays marbles, which her mother forbids, and hides her spoils under the house. It's all good until one day her mother catches her coming from underneath the house with a marble in her hand and she knows the gig is up. It all coincides with her developing body: "Soon after, I started to menstruate, and I stopped playing marbles. I never saw the Red Girl again" (4.31).
Another important episode is when Annie defaces a color picture of Columbus in a school textbook during history class with Miss Edward. In the picture depicting "Columbus in Chains," she writes under it, "The Great Man Can No Longer Just Get Up and Go," a phrase her mother has recently said about her ailing father. Needless to say, Annie gets in some serious trouble from Miss Edward, school administration, and her mother. Part of her punishment was to copy Books I and II of Milton's Paradise Lost.
By the time Annie is fifteen years old, she and her mother are even more estranged. She is depressed, with sadness like "a small black ball, all wrapped up in cobwebs" the size of a thimble is inside her (6.1). After being promoted to a higher class, Annie does not even feel as close to Gwen anymore. In fact, she finds her downright annoying and comes up with excuses to avoid their daily walks to and from school. Annie grows really tall and is a bit awkward. A group of boys ridicule her on the streets.
Annie falls ill for three months during the time of torrential rains following a draught. She has lots of crazy dreams and hallucinations during this time. When the Western medicine prescribed for her doesn't work, Ma Jolie (her mother's friend) and Ma Chess (her grandmother) both obeah women, come to heal her. See "The Supernatural" in "Themes" for more on this. Eventually, Annie recovers and the rain stops.
Finally, at age seventeen, completely discontent with her life in Antigua, Annie John decides to leave the island for good. After lengthy goodbyes to family friends, Gwen, her father and her mother, Annie leaves for England to study nursing.