Book Title and Author: Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Publication date and Publisher: August 22, 2017 by Algonquin Books
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Adult Fiction
Pages: 320 pages
Buy on Amazon.com
Date Read: July 29, 2017
From the bestselling author of the beloved The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry comes another perfect fable for our times–a story about women, choices, and recovering from past mistakes.
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.
This really was an amazing book by Gabrielle Zevin! From the very first page, I was absolutely engrossed with this funny, poignant, unique and very powerful feminist story about three generations of smart, witty Jewish women, Aviva/Jane, Rachel, her mother, and Ruby, her 13 year old daughter, as well as Embeth, wife to the congressman with who Aviva had her affair. The book follows all four of these women’s point of views as they tell their stories, which I thoroughly enjoyed since each woman had their own unique perspective not only on the sex scandal that ruined young Aviva Grossman’s life but on being a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a long-suffering wife and this, I believe gave the story its true heart and soul.
Aviva Grossman finds herself heavily embroiled in a sex scandal while working as an Congressional intern at age twenty, a scandal her mother Rachel tries very hard to help her avoid by strongly encouraging her to end the affair before it becomes public knowledge. Of course, Aviva doesn’t listen and the affair carries on until they are caught with their pants down, so to speak. Yet, while Congressman Levin walks away basically scot-free, is re-elected to office, and his wife Embeth remains supportively by his side, Aviva is horribly slut-shamed in the media and in the public eye. It doesn’t help that Aviva kept a blog of their affair, one she didn’t think anyone would read (or know would haunt her in the future-thank you Google!) that causes her name to become further fodder for public jokes and humiliations!
Aviva’s life is completely ruined. No one wants to hire her although she is a highly intelligent woman and a highly skilled political science graduate; nor will they even let her volunteer now that she is obviously a woman of no morals. After all, she slept with a married man! She must be a Jezebel! Just give her a huge Scarlet Letter A! After realizing that she cannot outrun her past indiscretions or people’s false thoughts about her, she decides she has to remake herself, start over, and become someone entirely new in a new place. So she does; she becomes Jane Young, an events planner in Maine—a young, single mother far away from Miami, her family, and her past.
There’s no denying that this novel draws a lot of parallels between the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton sex scandal of the mid-90s when Lewinsky was humiliated for being the young intern involved with the older, married politician but there was a double standard for Clinton. He was re-elected to office just like Congressmen Levin, and Hillary stood by her man just like Embeth does in the book; but poor Monica, even today the jokes about her still fly during election season or every time a political sex scandal occurs! Oh yes, in this book Zevin gives such a fascinating portrayal of how misogyny is alive and well in our culture even though it is 2017!
But more than portray the double standards that are rampant today, Zevin depicts the power of women of every age and how feminism grows and develops from the youngest at age 13 to the oldest at age 64 (and older!). With humor and grace, she emphasizes these four women’s intelligence, independence, resiliency, confidence, strength, and female empowerment. I cannot express how much I loved these female characters—they all had something smart, endearing, and warm to impart to the reader that stresses how absolutely extraordinary women are: even Embeth, who I admit I at first thought of as weak for staying with her cheating husband but later saw as possessing her own remarkable strength of will and resilience.
There are so many great things in Young Jane Young about women and for women! Zevin unequivocally tosses slut-shaming where it needs to be—in the trash in this amazing book! This is a refreshing, quick, highly creative read that will have you laughing at times and make you fall in love with Zevin’s effortless writing style! I highly recommend it as a highly enjoyable read!
**Thank you Edelweiss, Algonquin Books, and Gabrielle Zevin for an ARC copy in exchange for my honest and unbiased review. **