Review: Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

SYNOPSIS (via Goodreads):

“In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Show Tunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, IMPEACHMENT: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): The doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job—helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be.”

REVIEW:

I discovered this book when doing research for a blog post. This book ended up being the perfect summer read, and I’m so glad I picked it up.

Fourteen-year-old Mary Jane will be spending her summer as a nanny in what turns out to be a rather eccentric household. Growing up in a strict household, there are certain rules she must abide by. When entering the Cones’ household, it is like entering a different world. Mary Jane’s world is opened up by these experiences and soon seems to contemplate the way she has been raised.

Blau manages to completely capture the voice of a 14-year old girl, and Mary Jane is so incredibly relatable. The author also manages to capture the world of the 1970s perfectly, where the world was drastically changing and a new normal was being established. The author also manages to perfectly convey that feeling of being on the cusp of adulthood. Being 14 you are starting to think a bit more independently and learning and growing as a person. This book is incredibly hopeful while also discussing some heavy topics.

Mary Jane definitely feels like the ultimate summer read or a perfect beach read. I genuinely couldn’t put this book down once I picked it and it just flies by. It has great storytelling and an incredible cast of characters. It does have a very open ending allowing the reader to really decide what could happen going forward for Mary Jane.

I definitely recommend checking out Mary Jane. If you are looking for the perfect summer read or just a new fresh book, this one doesn’t disappoint.

RATING: 4.5/5

Review: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Rodham is a novel that explores the question: What if Hillary Rodham hadn’t married Bill Clinton? In 1971, Hillary is a young woman full of promise. She is attending Yale Law School, involved in student activism and women’s rights. While there she meets Bill Clinton, a handsome and charming fellow law student. Bill is already planning his future political career. In each other, they find an emotional, physical and intellectual partner that neither has previously experienced.

In the real world, Hillary followed Bill to Arkansas, where he proposed several times; though Hillary said no several times, she eventually accepted and became the Hillary Clinton we know today. In this novel Hillary ultimately chooses a different path. Hillary endures a devastating breakup with Bill after feeling doubt about their prospective marriage. Over the next several decades she sets her own path in the political world, one that has her crossing paths with Bill Clinton more often than she would like.

REVIEW:

I was fascinated from the synopsis alone. Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye my entire life. I have always been aware of her and her husband. I remember knowing that the President had done a bad thing, but being too young to fully understand the full scope of the scandal. As I got older I never truly understood why Hillary stayed with her husband after the White House scandal, especially after learning that this wasn’t his first “indiscretion”. This novel weaves a fictional tale through actual historic events.

It is interesting to see what things still happen in this alternate timeline (Barack Obama is still elected in 2008), and what changes (Bill Clinton drops out of the ’92 race, thus George Bush Sr. gets re-elected for a second term). The book explores the themes of loneliness, the quest for political power and the compromises that must be made on that quest, the frustrations associated with female ambition. The decisions made by this novel at times feel crazy, but still very interesting to read. One decision made was how Donald Trump was included in the 2016 presidential campaign. It is different from what actually happened in 2016, but with how incredibly awful he is as a person and President this felt especially uncomfortable to me. This novel, while obviously a work of fiction, helped me understand Hillary and Bill’s relationship a bit more. It made me more willing to understand why she stayed with him, and how important it is to find someone who challenges you in the best way. Overall, this novel was fascinating and even a couple days later I’m still thinking about it.

RATING: 7/10