Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid

jamaica kincaid annie john book cover

Master storyteller in fiction and non-fiction acclaimed by virtually all, Kincaid finds her work marketed for adults and young adults, and actually probably more to the former than the latter – and her work thus truly crosses over those supposed borders between audience ages.  With Annie John, she tells the semiautobiographical tale of a young girl coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s in Antigua.  Focusing on the fierce and ambivalent bonds of a mother’s love, one similar to but distinctive from Wolff’s LaVaughn’s with her mother, Kincaid creates Annie and her universal struggle to grow within but beyond the power of a mother’s care for her child.  Growing up in what could seema a paradise along the ocean on Antigua, Annie exalts in the all-consuming devltion of her mother’s time and care, at least until she turns twelve.  Then her life changes in ways often mysterious to her:  she instinctively rebels against authority both in the figure of her mother and in the cultural assumptions of her colonized British island education.  She revolts from her mother’s unconditional adoration and the trunk that symbolically stores the totem objects of her past.  Torn between love and hate, attraction and revulsion, Annie wrestles with the need to escape from the mother she once know and now begins to mourn.  In deciding her future, 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.”  Like Arnold, she faces the need to grow beyond her past that will still always be within her.  For all of the characters in this series and for all of us, shedding the skin to transform and come of age at new stages in life is never easy.