Thursday, June 29, 2017

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Before I left town for ten days, (more on this later), I mentioned that I'd read and wanted to recommend Gabrielle Zevin's new novel "Young Jane Young," which will be out in August. You may remember Ms. Zevin's last book since  I gushed about it not so long ago.

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If I hadn't heard Gabrielle Zevin speak at the Library Journal Day of Dialog in Chicago I might not have reacted so emotionally to "Young Jane Young," but her conversation about slut-shaming, about sexual choices that women make and about how they are often, no, always treated differently than men's under the same circumstances, really brought me up short. Even though women not supporting women is one of my daily rants - think the 2016 presidential election - I realized that I, too, was guilty during the Lewinsky/Clinton scandal.

Zevin spoke passionately about this paradox and addresses it with pointed humor in her new book about a young woman, Aviva Grossman, who goes to work as an intern in the office of her Florida congressman. A former neighbor and friend of her parents, old enough to be her father, Congressman Levin is not above using his position of power to seduce Aviva. And really folks, let's ask ourselves, how many of us at the ridiculously naïve age of say twenty-one or two, would rise above being bowled over by the sexual attentions of a powerful, good-looking boss?

All the old clichés come to mind; he's unhappily married, he'll leave his wife for me, we'll be the next pair of movers and shakers in D.C. Of course, we know that isn't going to happen. There's an accident, the affair is plastered all over the news, Aviva's "private" blog goes viral, she discovers she's pregnant. What's a girl to do?

How Aviva changes her name and her life, raising her sharp-tongued but delightful daughter in a small town in Maine, is at the heart of this funny, timely, wise look at our national penchant for harsh judgment. "The Scarlet Letter" was written back in 1850 yet I don't feel as though we've come very far. Take a look at the Cosby trial or the judge in the Stanford rape case and you'll likely arrive at the same conclusion. 

Zevin's book is rife with fantastic, not so minor characters. You'll laugh out loud, with, not at, Aviva's stereotypical Jewish mother Rachel. You'll applaud Aviva's political mentor in Maine, and you'll credit the wisdom of Congressman Levin's wife. Wonder Women, each of them. Get on the wait list soon.

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