Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (NetGalley Review)

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Algonquin Books (August 22, 2017)
Description from the publisher:
From the bestselling author of the beloved The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry comes another perfect fable for our times--a story about women, choices, and recovering from past mistakes.
Young Jane Young's heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general. 
How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her. 
A novel about a world that continues to want to define what women are and what they can, and cannot, do, Young Jane Young follows three generations of women, plus the wife of the Congressman. Told in varying voices through e-mails and even a Choose Your Own Adventure section, it captures not just the mood of this particular, highly charged moment but is an accessible, witty, smart take on the double standards that are alive and well and waiting to trip up ordinary and extraordinary women alike.

After reading the description of this novel, I couldn't help but think of Monica Lewinsky's extraordinarily powerful TED Talk. If you haven't heard it, I HIGHLY encourage giving it a listen. Yes, this is an issues book on feminism, politics and slut-shaming. But, the tone and structure made for a highly entertaining and informative read.

The majority of the book is told from the perspective of the women in Aviva's life, which I found refreshing and compelling. I think my favorite was the first, which is narrated by her mother. Rachel's voice sucked me in straightaway. Maybe it is because I am at an age where I am well past Aviva's point of view, and a mother myself. She also has a wonderfully witty and wry sense of humor that sets the general tone for the whole novel. The congressman's wife Embeth is similarly humorous and clever with a more somber, yet equally absorbing, tone. Ruby's perspective (Avivia's daughter) was tough to read - partly because it was in the form of a melodramatic one sided conversation of a 13 year old (with her school-assigned international pen pal) and partly because Zevin created such a full and clear picture of a heartbreakingly vulnerable girl.

In the end, we finally get some perspective from Avivia herself. I appreciate how Zevin doesn't paint her as a completely innocent martyr to gain our sympathy, and tells her side of the story with all it's complexities. 

"The rub of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories is that if you don't make a few bad choices, the story will be terribly boring. If you do everything right and you're always good, the story will be very short."

As a kid who was obsessed with Choose Your Own Adventure books, I thought it was a perfect narrative device to illustrate Aviva's inner dialogue as she faced the moral dilemmas that would profoundly affect her life (and those around her). It added that wry sense of humor each of these women possessed. My only complaint with the end was that it went way too quickly. I kept looking down at my place in the book and thinking, "There's no way that there's only 3% left in this book!" I wish Avivia had a little more time to tell her story, and given us a little more of her life in the moments that came after the ending.

This is a powerful story, told with humor and heart that I have come to expect from Gabrielle Zevin. Many thanks to Algonquin books and NetGalley for providing a copy for my honest review!


  1. I loved the first half of this book, but differ from you on the Choose Your Own Adventure part. I thought it was gimmicky and seemed hokey.

    1. Oh, I'm sorry to hear that it ruined the whole second half of the book for you! I can see if you didn't know about or love those books it wouldn't seem very funny. I just heard it in my head as another way of saying something like "behind door number 1 was this choice, behind door number two was this other choice" not affecting how I felt about the narrative as a whole, since she didn't actually employ the choose your own adventure gimmick of having to actually turn the page. That would've been horrible! Haha!

  2. I'm very excited to read this one!