The Reading Quilt: Annie JohnOct 13, 2021 09:00AM ● By Dr. Rachel Slaughter
The journey from adolescence to adulthood is one that has many twists and turns. Emotionally, young people experience turmoil as they try desperately to leave the bubble of comfort in the effort to become independent. It is this quest for independence that inspires young people to sometimes make rash and misguided decisions. These decisions are the stories that make young adult literature so compelling. Nicknamed YA Lit, the genre started in the 60’s when life for young people was fraught with violence sparked by racial injustice and political problems.
Each month “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book that a teacher may use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help students understand human behavior. Using the acronym Q.U.I.L.T., Slaughter offers readers information about the Quality of writing, Universal theme, and Imaginative plot, as well as a mini Lesson plan, and Talking points that stem from the book’s premise. This month, a YA Lit book that offers the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua as the setting of teen angst and rebellion is the focus of this month’s reading quilt.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Born in St. John’s, the Antiguan native began her life as Elaine Potter Richardson on May 25, 1949. When she was born, her parents did not predict that Elaine would come to be celebrated as the ‘most important West Indian woman writing today.’ Kincaid, the author of many notable books, reveals much of her life in her work. Her novels Annie John (1984) and Lucy (1990) are mostly biographical as well as her novel My Brother (1997) which details the heart wrenching life and death of her baby brother Devon Drew who died from AIDS.
Quality: Opening with an almost childlike description of her idyllic albeit sheltered surroundings and mini farm, Annie John, Kincaid’s protagonist, reveals her fears, preoccupation with death, and roller coaster relationship with her mother who is the center of her universe. First the object of her adoration, Annie’s mother quickly becomes the center of her loathing. The plot, filled with drama, is one that closely resembles Jamaica Kincaid’s life.
Universal theme: Often the center of much discussion and analysis, the mother-daughter relationship is a yarn that authors love to spin. Kincaid’s novel weaves in nuances like homosexuality and separation anxiety that add to the theme’s intrigue. With its extended descriptions of Annie’s idyllic island life, the book soothes the soul as the reader is emotionally swaddled by the relaxing milieu.
Imaginative story: The coming-of-age theme is a popular one in literature because the journey from youth to adulthood is a fascinating, often painful time. Kincaid captivates readers in Annie John which details Annie's emotional state as she is catapulted into adulthood. This causes a painful tear in Annie's relationship with her mother. Actually, it sparks a raging war within the child while she grapples with the juxtaposition of her cocoon-like world and that of the cruel, ugly one. This type of angst is indicative of the YA genre.
Lesson plan: The YA Lit genre is growing in popularity with approximately 30,000 YA titles published each year. S.E. Hinton, the author of The Outsiders (1967), once lamented that the world is ever-changing yet books for young people are stagnant in their plots not reflecting the reality of life. “Teenagers today want to read about teenagers today,” Hinton said. A lesson may center around the lives of young people in the public eye who represent the social, political, or racial turmoil experienced by many teens today.
Talking points: In the book Annie John (1984), Kincaid offers a captivating story of a girl and her mother. The relationship, which leaves a lot to be desired, is rife with hostility. Psychologists tell us that the mother and daughter relationship is complicated for many reasons. If this is true, perhaps the mother and daughter relationship has caused lots of pain in thousands of adolescent girls. Kincaid’s book offers plenty to discuss this phenomenal relationship between two people.
For the girls who live with their mothers:
Describe your relationship with your mother?
Is the relationship nurturing or toxic?
If the relationship is toxic, how can you let your mother know that you are not feeling loved and supported?
For the boys who live with their sisters and mothers:
The mother and daughter relationship is often complicated, how can you support your mother as she strengthens her relationship with her daughter?
How can you support your sister as she works through feelings of angst?
If given the opportunity, how would you describe the relationship between your sister and mother?
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