And here we have another book club pick. Just so you know I am actively involved in two in real life book clubs and one online book club. Yowza! That keeps me super busy with reading. And, I LOVE it. There is nothing I enjoy more than discussing all the bookish things with people who also love books. It is my absolute favorite. Some further information in case you are interested–one of my in real life book clubs is a work one. We meet after work once a month for happy hour at a local restaurant and discuss the book. The other book club I moderate and participate in is at a lovely winery in my area. Honestly, if you can meet at a winery–DO IT. You will not regret it. Wine + Books = Magic. (That should be on a shirt, don’t ya think?)
Anyhoo, Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin is a book I read for my work book club. Before I get to the ins and outs of the book, I have to say that this book really did foster some great discussion. The book’s main conflict calls to mind all of the news stories involving men in power and the treatment of women who work with them. It is especially reminiscent of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal that occurred during the mid nineties.
The book begins with Rachel Grossman, a divorcée, whose daughter Aviva has begun an illicit affair with a congressman, she works for. The book follows, in alternating perspectives, the timeline before, during, and after the affair. We hear from the women, in their own voice, whose lives are affected by the affair, including Aviva, Rachel, Aviva’s daughter Ruby, and the congressman’s wife, Embeth. This is the novel’s strongest point. Hearing from each of these women is illuminating, and being able to “hear” each perspective allows you an opportunity to empathize with all of them.
I liked this novel. The pace is spot on. It reads quickly and it is funny at times and poignant at others. I particularly enjoyed the epistolary portion of the novel written between Ruby and her Indonesian pen pal. The theme of this novel felt particularly timely in the wake of the #metoo and #timesup movement involving the sexual harassment/assault of women in the TV and film industry and beyond. In addition, it brings to mind a host of (recent) historical scandals such as the previously mentioned Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, Chandra Levy and the scandal surrounding her affair with Gary Condit and her suspicious death, and the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill sexual harassment scandal of the early nineties. As a woman reading this book about women in the present social climate, I felt incredibly moved by Aviva’s story and the fallout surrounding it.
The book does a stellar job at giving the perspectives of ALL the women involved, including my personal favorite, Embeth, the wife of the congressman. I enjoyed getting to see her perspective and her struggles in being the wife of a congressman. Zevin does a great job of relaying the sacrifices Embeth makes throughout her life in order to support her ambitious husband, including stifling her own ambitions.
Now for the bad news. (Well, it is not so bad, but, you know, the things I didn’t like so much.) There were parts of the book that were head scratchers for me. For example, the part that involves a parrot named El Meté. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but you will understand when you read this part of the book. While I understand the bird’s contribution to moving the narrative forward, I am befuddled as to why this particular choice was made.
In addition, I would have liked the story to have been a little more fleshed out by the end. I wanted to know more about these women and their lives not informed by the scandal.
Lastly, the author took a risk with last fifth of the book. It is creative and effective, yet also, somehow, frustrating. It left me wanting more. However, I loved the format of the ending (I am not going to give away anything!) I will say that after I finished the book, I kept wavering on what my rating would be. Young Jane Young kept me thinking about the past and the present and the question, How far have we really come?
Bottom Line: I give this book a 4/5. It is timely, enjoyable, and will keep you thinking.