Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)
Annie John is one of the first novels to examine the complex relationship between mother and daughter, a bond that although nurturing in the child’s early years, turns oppressive in the teenage ones. It chronicles the need for a separation between a parent and child in order for the child to establish autonomy. Although the break in Annie’s case is traumatic, it need not be so. The themes of Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid’s first novel, are continued in Lucy (1990), a novel about a young woman’s experiences after leaving her Caribbean island home. Although the protagonist is named Lucy, the novel could easily be the continuation of Annie’s story. An earlier work, At the Bottom of the River (1983), a collection of short stories, also explores, in a prose filled with surreal images, the mother-daughter relationship.
Jamaica Kincaid is familiar with her subject matter. She herself grew up on Antigua and left, like her protagonists, at seventeen, not to return for nineteen years. For her, the rupture with her mother was occasioned by the birth of a brother when Kincaid was nine, to be followed by two more; the brothers occupied her mother’s time and also were considered for opportunities that she was not. Although her fiction is autobiographical, it goes beyond simply a recounting of events and moves into literature characterized by an accomplished prose with lyrical repetitions and rhythms. Kincaid’s fiction is not specifically aimed at a young adult audience, but these readers will benefit from the insight evident in Kincaid’s description of coming-of-age.