Zevin’s last novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, is one of my favorite books ever. I heard about it from the publisher who just raved and I’m so sorry to say that he is now retired (thank you, Michael Rockliff, I still miss your recommendations!) So I was pretty excited about a new book from this author. Then I saw it made the top of the Library Reads List which is always a good sign. But with all my expectations, I was bound to be disappointed and I kinda was.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good book. One chapter in I was recommending my library try and get the author to visit. I knew the first chapter’s name alone, “Bubbe Meise”, would be of interest to my library patrons, as would the Jewish mother and the setting of Miami Beach and Boca Raton.
So the Jewish mother has a college age daughter, Aviva Grossman, who is interning for a local congressman, who was their neighbor at one time. Aviva ends up having an affair with the congressman, gets caught and ostracized. Think Monica Lewinsky on a smaller scale. Or more likely, Donna Rice if you are old enough to remember that scandal. He, of course, survives with his job and family intact, but she cannot get a job. Such is life.
Then Aviva finds out she’s pregnant. She moves to a small town in Maine, changes her name to Jane Young, becomes a party planner, and raises her very precocious daughter Ruby herself. And when she runs for Mayor of the small town, her opponent digs up the dirt on her and Ruby figures out who she really is and who she thinks her father is.
The point of view shifts between Aviva’s mother, the congressman’s wife, young Aviva, Jane Young, and Ruby. I was not a fan of the second person voice at one point, nor of the “choose your own adventure” device that crops up that other readers seem to love. Political scandal always makes for good reading, and the perspective from the woman’s side of things is less judgmental and more realistic, especially among the various ages of the women telling the story. The family dynamics here also ring true, and the story is told with a lot of humor, which I loved.
I totally related to the mother more than the daughter, but the characters weren’t as developed as I expected. It appears that Zevin grew up here in South Florida and I would guess maybe still has family here. So while I didn’t love this book like I loved the Fikry book, it’s not really a fair comparison since that book was about a bookstore and my readers know my predilection for that setting! If you like scandal-laced, humorous family stories, (and I do,) then I highly recommend it.
8/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
YOUNG JANE YOUNG by Gabrielle Zevin. Algonquin Books (August 22, 2017). ISBN 978-1616205041. 320p.