Book Review: Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Young Jane Young is the story of Aviva Grossman, a Congressional intern in Florida who has an affair with Congressman Aaron Levin. When the story gets out, Aviva’s life is the scandal of the year in South Florida. Yet Congressman Levin gets off scot-free and continues his Congressional career, while Aviva has to take off a semester of college because photographers and reporters harass her college campus and classes. Once she graduates, she cannot get a job or even a recommendation letter.
Young Jane Young is told in 5 parts by 5 women: Aviva’s mother, Rachel, then Jane Young, Jane’s daughter Ruby, the Congressman’s wife Embeth, and finally, Aviva. The novel starts with Rachel looking back on what happened 13 years prior. We find out that Aviva shares parts of her situation with her mom, and Rachel tries her best to get Aviva to end the affair and keep her name out of the scandal. But the Congressman and Aviva get into a car accident, and the press get a hold of the story and identify Aviva as more than just an intern. At that point it probably could have blown over and been handled somewhat quietly, but when the press discover Aviva’s blog about her time as a Congressional intern detailing all the parts of the affair, the scandal blows up. She writes the blog anonymously and never specifies who she works for, but after the accident, it becomes fairly obvious.
The next part of the book tells the story of Jane Young, an event planner in Allison Springs, Maine. She is raising her daughter Ruby and planning mostly weddings. But when Jane decides to run for public office, the Aviva Grossman story interferes. In Ruby’s section of the book, told in the form of emails to her pen pal in Indonesia, we learn that Aviva is actually Jane. After Aviva left South Florida, she moved to Maine and changed her name to Jane Young, so she could start over with a new name and new life.
Embeth’s story is particularly interesting because up until this point she has only a minor role. However, she stays with the Congressman after the scandal, playing the role of the "Good Wife". Aviva's section tells the story of the affair as it happens, and even includes bits about "if you do this, turn to page 75" and "if you do not do this, turn to page 92." Seeing Aviva's choices as she is making them gives the reader a chance to see how many times she had a chance to end the affair before it started or before it got out of hand.
Young Jane Young has been all over the must-read lists for the fall. I used to work in politics and campaigns, so I am always partial to political stories. Last year I read The Hopefuls about a couple who works on the Obama campaign. These types of stories capture the intensity of working on a campaign and give you a sense of how fraught with scandals politics and politicians are. Young Jane Young is one of the more interesting political stories I have read because it follows the fall-out of an affair and focuses on the woman, instead of the male politician.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and give it 4 stars! I definitely recommend it to those who enjoy dysfunctional family stories and political stories.
Let me know what you thought about Young Jane Young or if you have any recommendations.