Book Review: Without Annette by Jane B. Mason
Josie Little has been looking forward to moving halfway across the country to attend Brookwood Academy, a prestigious boarding school, with her girlfriend, Annette, for ages. But underneath Brookwood’s picture-perfect image lies a crippling sense of elitism that begins to tear the girls apart from the moment they arrive.
While Josie struggles to navigate her new life, Annette seems to fit in perfectly. Yet that acceptance comes with more than a few strings. And consequently, Annette insists on keeping their relationship a secret.
At first, Josie agrees. But as Annette pushes her further and further away, Josie grows closer to Penn, a boy whose friendship and romantic feelings for her tangle her already-unraveling relationship. When Annette’s need for approval sets her on a devastating course for self-destruction, Josie isn’t sure she can save her this time-or if Annette even wants her to try.
15-year-old Josie seems to think that things will be great at boarding school. She and her girlfriend Annette are leaving behind tiny Virginia Falls, Minnesota—and Annette’s abusive, alcoholic mother—for the elite Brookwood Academy in Hartford, Connecticut. But things start to unravel from the very moment they get to school and realize they aren’t roommates. Josie and Annette have best friends since kindergarten and a couple since they were 12. For what appears to be the first time, they are making new friends and spending time apart. Annette pushes them to keep their relationship a secret. She wants people to get to know her first, separate from Josie/the label of Josie’s girlfriend, and wants to feel out how people may react. It seems pretty obvious that being closeted and Annette’s overt desire to be seen as her own person and gain some distance from their relationship will cause heartache. While Annette is immediately embraced by the Soleets (the social elites), Josie feels awkward, left out, and lonely. She finds surprising friendship with Roxanne, her arty and outspoken roommate, and Penn, a boy who includes her in his tight ring of mischief-making friends (and who harbors a crush on her). Though the outcome of the story is pretty predictable, Mason makes the characters compelling enough to make readers invested in finding out just how Josie will end up without Annette.
What I liked about this story is that it’s a very complex and nuanced look at a young lesbian couple. The girls have been together a long time and have a long history together. Taking them from their shared hometown and plopping them in the middle of a totally new environment forces their relationship to undergo challenges they maybe could have avoided or have been avoiding at home. Neither character is perfect and both make mistakes and bad choices both in general and in their relationship. They have a sexual relationship—and have for a long time—that also faces challenges both because of their choice to stay closeted and because of Annette appearing to now hold all of the control over what they do and when. Though they have been together a long time, they’re also very young, and they way the treat each other and the changes their relationship undergoes feel real. Flashbacks throughout the novel illuminate previous parts of their relationship and help the reader understand just how far they are from what they used to be. A complicated look at love, truth, authenticity, hanging on, and breaking free.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 05/31/2016
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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