Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Book Review: "Mary Jane" by Jessica Anya Blau

Looking for a terrific coming-of-age story about a teenager who realizes there’s more to life than her sheltered upbringing? Read Mary Jane, the new novel by Jessica Anya Blau.

Was there a point in your childhood when you realized your parents weren’t always right about everything, that their views of the world might be out of step? That’s what happens to 14-year-old Mary Jane.

It’s 1970s Baltimore. Mary Jane is a good girl—she loves Broadway show tunes, sings in the church choir, and grows up in a conservative, traditional household. (There’s even a picture of President Ford hanging in the house.) Her father works; her mother takes care of the house and makes sure dinner is always on time.

Her mother gets her a summer job in “a respectable home,” working for the Cone family, helping care for their young daughter Izzy. (If only her mother knew that what appeared "respectable" on the outside was anything but on the inside!) But Mary Jane quickly realizes the Cones need far more than a helper—she practically takes over running the household in no time. She also knows that the Cones’ lifestyle is one her parents would definitely disapprove of, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

Mary Jane’s life is thrown for a loop when one of Dr. Cone’s patients and his wife move in, so Dr. Cone can help him beat his addiction. But it’s not just any patient—it’s Jimmy, a famous musician, and his even-more-famous wife, Sheba. Suddenly Mary Jane is the only person paying attention to what goes on with Izzy, ensuring whether there’s food in the house, getting the laundry done, etc. And at the same time, she starts to learn things about life, love, relationships, and music, things that conflict with the things she’s always believed. It’s good when your eyes are opened to what’s around you, but difficult at the same time.

I thought Mary Jane was great. I definitely felt like Blau captured the mood in society of the 1970s and the conflict between more "traditional" or conservative beliefs and more modern ones. Mary Jane was a terrific character and I loved seeing how her eyes were opened, but yet how she felt rooted in what she had been taught by her parents.

This was definitely a well-written and thought-provoking story!

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