Many novels contain events, scenes and people taken from the author’s life. “Write what you know” is a familiar dictum from editors and critics, and most writers, even those who write fantasy and science fiction, take that advice to heart.
But it’s not often that one reads an introduction to a novel an admission that the author is two of the main characters of the story. Right at the beginning of The Annie Project, Joanne Norton makes that statement: “I am two of the main characters. My official name is Carolyn Joanne, although I’ve been only called Joanne since birth. So, in the book, I am ‘Cary’ and ‘Annie.’”
What that statement does, of course, is tell the reader that while this is a novel, it is also something of a memoir, something of an autobiography, and, in Norton’s hands, something of a testimony.
But most of all, The Annie Project is a story, a big story, the story of how an elderly woman’s concern about a young girl next door leads to the redemption of a family.
Cary Nolan is a recent widow, a former missionary, a mother and a grandmother. After her husband’s death, she moves to a small town called Newton to be closer to her children. And next door is a mother who drinks herself in an alcoholic stupor, a teenaged boy constantly in trouble with the law, and a 12-year-old girl named Annie who’s angry at the world. They’ve been abandoned by the father.
|Norton on a mission trip in Uganda|
Cary looks at Annie, and Cary sees a lot of herself. Perhaps too much of herself.
So Cary decides to do something. She has enough wisdom to know that reaching out to Annie won’t be an all-or-nothing proposition, but more of a little bit here and a little bit there. And it won’t be all victories.
Things happen in The Annie Project. Lots of things. Annie’s mother disappears. The father returns. Annie’s brother gets into more trouble. Cary goes on a short-term mission trip to Uganda (and, I suspect, an event in the novel that is clearly autobiographical).
Norton writes with passion. She is passionate about Annie’s story, because she is passionate about her own story. She knows the meaning of grace, both receiving and giving it. She’s passionate about sharing the grace she’s been given.
And she knows that while this may be Annie’s/Cary’s/Joanne’s story, it is also our story.