Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
(Algonquin – August 22, 2017)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Feminist, timely and uniquely constructed, this novel is a commentary on motherhood, womanhood and politics.
Thanks to Algonquin for the review copy of this title – all opinions are my own.
Book Description (from Goodreads)
Young Jane Young’s heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.
How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.
A novel about a world that continues to want to define what women are and what they can, and cannot, do, Young Jane Young follows three generations of women, plus the wife of the Congressman. Told in varying voices through e-mails and even a Choose Your Own Adventure section, it captures not just the mood of this particular, highly charged moment but is an accessible, witty, smart take on the double standards that are alive and well and waiting to trip up ordinary and extraordinary women alike.
I don’t often read the word “slut” in books and still keep reading – this is a word that I DETEST and I will publicly call out a book for portraying slut-shaming as okay. However, this book is ABOUT slut-shaming and the insanity of it, and THAT is okay in my world. YOUNG JANE YOUNG tells the story of a congressional intern who had an affair with a congressman, but it’s actually mainly the story of how the public outcry impacts the other women in her life – her mother, her daughter, and the wife of the congressman. I loved that the book was narrated by these different women, and also that different sections were in formats such as email and a Choose Your Own Adventure story.
Zevin’s essay about this book in the Algonquin Reader gives insight into her experience as a child with the double standards in politics, and also speaks to the current climate for women in politics – basically, a woman putting on a suit does NOT magically make her equal to men in the eyes of the voting public.
I really, really enjoyed this book and read it in one day – I love the motherhood focus and getting into the heads of all of the different female characters. Highly recommended as a light read for readers interested in feminism and politics!
This book was covered on NPR Weekend Edition too! Check it out here.