Review: Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Genres: Women’s Lit; Fiction
Maturity Level: 4
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

“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 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’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was and is and must decide whether she can still respect her.

I expected to really like this book, but I was surprised by how much fun I had reading it! It’s a captivating story, well-written, a quick read, and a great reading experience.

Young Jane Young has a lot of things going for it, but for me the most stand out element was the narrative voices of the four main characters: Aviva/Jane, the woman involved in the sex scandal; Rachel, her mom; Ruby, her thirteen year-old daughter; and Embeth, the congressman’s wife. Each character has such a distinctive voice, and they are ALL a riot.

The story of the affair is presented in flashbacks from the perspective of Rachel, Aviva’s mom. I was frequently laughing out loud, but I was also surprised by how much insight Rachel provided to the situation, allowing me to look at it from a perspective I had never thought of before. When I finished reading her section I turned to my husband and said, “Well, this book is going to be all downhill from here.” I didn’t think there was any way Zevin would be able to top Rachel.

But boy, was I wrong. Every. Single. Woman. in this book was so relatable, so strong, so funny. Even Embeth, the congressman’s wife, who I expected to hate. In fact, she was maybe the woman I related to the most, despite the fact that my husband has never been involved in a sex scandal and I have never had breast cancer. Zevin just did such a fantastic job with these characters, they were so amazing.

I have to say I didn’t care for the last section, which is written in the style of a choose-your-own-adventure story. I should clarify that narratively there’s a reason for it, it’s not just random! But it didn’t work for me because, as I said before, the strength of this book is in the narrative voices of the women. While I don’t necessarily have a problem with second-person-narration, the chose-your-own-adventure idea lost Aviva’s characteristic voice.

I think a big part of why I enjoyed this novel is that the plot was both familiar and brand new. The Monica Lewinsky scandal broke while I was in elementary school, so I lived through that drama, but I was too young to really understand what happened. I was old enough to know what sex and adultery were, but not old enough to understand how young Monica Lewinsky was, or what slut-shaming was, or any of the details. Seeing those details from an adult perspective was eye opening and fascinating.

Another surprise was the feminist position Zevin took. When we talk about women like Monica Lewinsky or Aviva Grossman we tend to take two positions: 1) she’s a slut and it’s all her fault, or 2) the man was so much older than her and took advantage, and it’s all his fault. Zevin’s ultimate conclusion is that neither perspective is very helpful. To slut-shame her alone is highly unfair, but to place the blame squarely on the man’s shoulders removes all agency from the woman. I concluded from the novel that both players made mistakes, but both players chose to do something they knew was wrong.

Ultimately, I think, this story is about having compassion for others instead of judging them. Do your best to understand people and to remember that they are, in fact, people.

I highly recommend this novel. Even if you think feminism isn’t you’re thing (I often do…), or that “adult literature” or contemporary fiction aren’t for you, give it a shot. It’s a quick easy read and I think you’ll love the characters and learn something.

10 thoughts on “Review: Young Jane Young

  1. I really enjoyed this review. If you have time in the near future. I’d love you take on my short story “Trigger Me”. I’m a young aspiring writer that would love feedback!


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