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Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release Date: August 22, 2017
Length: 320 pages
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Sometimes a book just screams to be discussed and Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel, Young Jane Young, is one such book. The much loved author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has people buzzing about some of the very different turns used in her latest book. Readers who had looked at the book’s description on Goodreads might have been better prepared for the oddities of this book, but those of us who perused Amazon or Algonquin Books got a close, but slightly less forthcoming description.
From Algonquin Books
Aviva Grossman, an ambitious congressional intern in Florida, makes the mistake of having an affair with her boss —and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the beloved congressman doesn’t take the fall. But Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins: slut-shamed, she becomes a late-night talk show punch line, anathema to politics.
She sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. This time, she tries to be smarter about her life and strives to raise her daughter, Ruby, to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, Aviva decides to run for public office herself, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet and catches up—an inescapable scarlet A. In the digital age, the past is never, ever, truly past. And it’s only a matter of time until Ruby finds out who her mother was and is forced to reconcile that person with the one she knows.
Young Jane Young is a smart, funny, and moving novel about what it means to be a woman of any age, and captures not just the mood of our recent highly charged political season, but also the double standards alive and well in every aspect of life for women.
Young Jane Young was told from the perspective of five different women, each adding to the story of Jane and the choices she made. For our purposes today, let’s talk about what worked, what didn’t, and what other questions arose in this book. I’ll briefly include my thoughts, but please jump in with yours and add questions that I’ve missed. For those of you who haven’t yet read Young Jane Young, I’m sorry, but THERE WILL BE SPOILERS from here on out!
Best Parts of Young Jane Young
- I like stories told from multiple perspectives and Young Jane Young used five: her mother, Jane herself, her daughter (Ruby), Embeth, the Congressman’s wife, and Aviva, Jane’s former self.
- Rachel’s opening narration was fantastic. I loved her realistic, matter-of-fact voice and would have been happy had she told the whole story.
- I liked that Zevin built a story around an all too common scenario: a couple has an affair. The powerful man goes on with little impact to his life, while the woman is slut-shamed and blamed for choices they both made. This is an excellent premise and I was excited to see where the story went.
- Jane’s building of a new life for herself in order to protect her child. I appreciated that she’d put her daughter first.
- Embeth Levin was a very sympathetic character and not just because she had cancer. I sometimes found her choices questionable, but found her love for her husband, despite his many flaws, to be touching.
Parts That Didn’t Quite Work
- Ruby’s section of the book was where Young Jane Young began to unravel for me. I thought Ruby was an extremely naive 13-year old and her one-sided exchange with her Indonesian penpal got old fast. Ruby’s near obsessive, Fancy Nancy style of defining words didn’t work for me either.
- El Mete!!! What was with the imaginary parrot? Sure it added some humor to the story, but for me, El Mete made Embeth (a character I really liked) seem a little too unbalanced. It felt like fluff.
- “Choose Your Own Adventure” – why? In the final section of the book, Aviva emerges to tell what happened years before between her and the Congressman. She looks back on other choices she might have made and that takes on the “Choose Your Own Adventure” format, in which you never really get to choose.
- Aviva’s section was narrated to herself in a “you do” sort of way that quickly became annoying.
- Aviva’s section contained too much filler, including parts about gaydar, and the “girl on a mattress in a storm” analogy. Add to that, the fact that by the time Aviva was telling the story the reader already knew almost everything from the others. Is this why her section contained so many gimmicks?
- I didn’t understand Rachel and Aviva having so little contact over the years. Only a couple phone calls a year and no visits ever felt cruel on Aviva/Jane’s part and unrealistically accepting on Rachel’s.
- What did you think of the five women and their roles in Young Jane Young?
- Did the gimmicks go too far or did you enjoy them? Did they get in the way of the story?
- Was Jane hiding away to avoid more shame a choice that was at odds with running for office?
- Did you understand why Rachel would let her only child essentially cut her out of her life? Was she taking respect for her child’s wishes too far? Was Jane cruel in not letting Rachel know her granddaughter all those years?
- Did it bother anyone else that Embeth wasn’t all that concerned when Ruby showed up? She just took her to lunch and a movie…no problem!
Please, join the discussion!
What did you think of Young Jane Young?
Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest thoughts.
Disclosure: There are Amazon Associate links included within this post.