Being in a book club offers lots of positive experiences…for me, it frequently means I will read something I NEVER would have selected on my own! That was the case with Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Why wouldn’t I have picked it? For starters, there is that weird title. Then the blurb, letting me know it was about a loner who owns a struggling bookstore…well, those weren’t exactly grabbers for me. But I loved the book, and after pondering why, it came down to the fact that it was just FUN to read. It entertained me and it made me THINK. So I was happy to receive a copy of Zevin’s new book Young Jane Young, from Algonquin Books and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Young Jane Young is the story of Aviva Grossman, a Congressional intern in Florida who has an affair with her boss and telling the story in her (supposed to be) anonymous blog. As is often the case, the guy is temporarily damaged by the scandal, but Aviva becomes notorious. Like Lewinsky, she is slut-shamed and her name becomes synonymous with the ick factor in politics in general.
Aviva changes her name to the generic Jane Young, moves to Maine, and starts over, with her daughter in tow. She becomes a successful small-town business owner, raising her daughter to be a strong, confident young woman. Everything goes well until Jane runs for public office and finds that Google provides an indelible scarlet A. It seems that in social media, the past is never gone. Ruby finds out her mother isn’t the person she had always thought she was, and as she confronts the reality of the world, she needs to decide how much this matters.
The novel follows three generations (Aviva’s mother, Aviva and Ruby) and uses rotating points of view to tell their stories, along with that of the Congressman’s wife. The characters are terrific: Aviva’s mother Rachel is the first one we meet, and she tells us (as she is talking about how her best friend Roz and her new husband spend time together) “I don’t particularly want a husband. They’re a lot of work, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone either, and it would be nice to have someone to go to classes with is what I’m saying.” Jane works hard on raising Ruby mindful of the lessons she absorbed from her own childhood: “I believed a mother must act like the woman she wanted here daughter to become.” And Ruby is just…amazing.
I loved how it entertained me with tons of humor, and made me think about how the world still wants to define women’s roles and possibilities. I’m kind of a political junkie, so that aspect of it appealed to me as well.
Sadly, double standards are still with us, and misogyny is rampant in politics and business. This is a fairly quick read, but anyone who cares about the issues will find the characters and their experiences rolling around in their brain long after the final chapter. Five stars. Hugely enjoyable, as was Fikry.