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Review: Mary Jane

Mary Jane

Title: Mary Jane
Author: Jessica Anya Blau
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 320
Published by: HarperCollins
Date Published: May 11, 2021
You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Goodreads Synopsis:

In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Show Tunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, IMPEACHMENT: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): The doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job—helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be.

Overall Thoughts:

Jessica Anya Blau has captured the voice of a 14-year-old girl perfectly: that time where you understand just enough to be confused by it all, the awkward in-between where you want to understand more, but are too embarrassed to ask. This tone is incredibly difficult to achieve and I’ve read many novels that push a voice onto a child narrator that never feels authentic, but Jessica has mastered it here.

While the novel could’ve gone deeper on certain, big topic issues – such as racism, classism and antisemitism – I think the amount of discussion present fits the lens of the story. Everything we see is through Mary Jane’s perspective and her own awakening to these issues, her beginning to question the world at large and the teachings of her parents. One of the biggest topic takeaways for me was the discussion on parenting styles – the somewhat oppressive upbringing of Mary Jane’s contrasting with the carefree, somewhat neglectful parenting of her charge, Izzy. While the latter allows for emotional blossoming and freedom, it is the focused teachings of Mary Jane’s mother that allows her daughter to be self sufficient and capable. It would make an excellent book club discussion as Jessica paints neither as the “perfect” model. 

Overall, I was seriously impressed by this gentle coming-of-age story that combined interesting, lively characters with great heaps of 1970s summertime nostalgia. A perfect read to sink into on a beach this summer while you fall in love with some memorable characters, relive your own early teen years, and experience the sweetest little friendship between a five year old and her fourteen year old babysitter.

Read This If:

  • You love coming of age movies like Now & Then and Dazed & Confused. 
  • Looking for a romance-free, easy summer read set in the summertime (not always an easy find!)
  • Have a fondness for nostalgia stories.
  • Are comfortable with open conversations on drugs, addiction, and sex. 

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