Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin

youngjaneyouthThis was the one contemporary novel I read in the midst of a sea of historical fiction while on my spring vacation. I found it vivid and really compelling — moreso than the previous book I’d read by the same author. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was good, but for me, Young Jane Young was a can’t-put-down kind of novel, and I burned through it less than a day (of course, I was on vacation).

It tells the story of Jane Young, who had another life and another identity before she adopted that bland name in a small New England town. She was once Aviva, a college-aged intern for a state politician who became embroiled in a Clinton/Lewinsky style sex scandal — and, just like Monica Lewinsky, she learned that the young female intern was the one who bore most of the public shaming and hate for the affair. It’s enough to make a girl cut all ties with her past, change her name and career, and move to a different part of the country to start over.

The story is told in several parts from the viewpoints of four women, all of them engaging characters — Jane/Aviva herself, her teenaged daughter Ruby, her mother Rachel, and the congressman’s cheated-on wife Embeth, each of whom gets to share her own perspective on the events and their aftermath. Finally, the story takes us back in time to when the affair actually happened, shifting not into first- but into second-person voice and telling twenty-year-old Aviva’s story as if it were a choose-your-own adventure novel (but in each case, you only get to read about the choices she actually makes — the one that leads to her life falling apart). I didn’t expect this part of the story to unfold in this style, but it was surprisingly effective and compelling.

This is a novel about making mistakes, surviving, and recreating yourself — and it also takes a hard look at the way we judge women and men differently in the wake of highly-publicized scandals like the fictional one in this novel.

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