The good: A unique way of telling a story from those who know Aviva/Jane.
The not-so-good: Blitzed through this as it was so compelling!
Why I chose it: Sounded interesting and I liked the cover – thanks Hachette!
Publisher: Little, Brown (Hachette)
Setting: Florida and Maine, USA
Rating: 9 out of 10
Young Jane Young is a deceptively excellent book. I say deceptive because the cover looks like the book will be an easy, fun read but within the covers…wow. This is a master plot, carefully constructed and told with a twist. Why a twist? You see, it’s not until the very end that we actually hear from Aviva herself. First her mother tells the tale of Jane when she was Aviva. Then we hear from Jane, nicely settled into life in a small town in Maine…until someone mentions that he knows a secret. Over then to Ruby, Jane’s daughter, who tells her side of the story through emails to her pen pal in Indonesia. The wife of the congressman Aviva was having an affair with then takes over. The final section is devoted to Aviva, in a choose your own adventure style retelling of the whole affair. It’s clever and never boring.
The ingenious way of telling the story is definitely one of the highlights of this book. Another is the plot, which is simple but with a strong impact. Aviva is an intern to a congressman in Florida, who happens to be a former neighbour/kind of friend. They begin an affair and lonely with no one to share her experience with, she starts an anonymous blog. It’s early days in the blogosphere so it probably would have stayed buried had she and the congressman not been in a car accident. The whole thing then turns into Florida’s version of Clinton/Lewinsky. There’s nothing left for Aviva to do but retreat from everything she’s known. The story begins years later as Aviva, now Jane, is an events planner in a small Maine town. She lives a quiet life with her daughter, but when a groom becomes jealous of her friendship with his bride, he tells her he knows her secrets. Slowly, Jane’s life begins to unravel…
At the start, I was a little confused as the narrative was told from Rachel’s point of view. Who was Rachel and why wasn’t she mentioned on the back cover? Rachel is Aviva’s mum, and she’s going to tell her side of the story first. Just go with the flow and the story will unfold with you. Ruby’s emails were also a bit grating for me. She came across as precocious but as her section progressed it was clear that this was a front, a kind of verbal diarrhoea to mask a kid who is unpopular and desperate to know who her dad is. All the characters are nicely flawed, particularly Aviva. She can’t shy away from who she is or what she’s done but she’s worked through it. There are also a lot of astute observations in the novel which got me thinking about gender and power. The congressman was forgiven after an apology and time, but Aviva? No, she’s shamed forever. Ruby also makes the point that some people won’t ever get out of your way, not even if you’re walking straight at them. It was a spot on observation – most people will step aside, but there’s always an idiot who is determined to prove (usually) his power, no matter how small the victory. In between these statements, there’s a generous helping of humour. Gabrielle Zevin makes these characters real, people you would want to know and love despite everything. Young Jane Young is a strong novel that leaves an imprint on you.