Gabrielle Zevin, Young Jane Young (2017)
If I go to my Goodreads account, I see that I started this book at the end of November and finished it at the end of January. If I add that I had it on my nightstand from mid-October, that should tell you something. Either something about the book or about me. I was clearly not taken in by this novel. I was indeed curious to read about a young woman, Aviva Grossmann, whose choices are very similar to those of Monica Lewinsky (except that as an intern, she’s having an affair with a Congressmann and not the POTUS), and to learn what she made of her life afterwards. But I should know myself better. I’m not very interested in politics, even less in American politics, and I’m not really interested in scandalous affairs and their long-term consequences. I don’t normally read this kind of plots. I was willing to make an exception because I’d heard good reviews on several podcasts, but clearly it ended up being a poor fit.
I didn’t know that the characters of this novel were Jewish and in my naivety I didn’t even know that Florida has a big Jewish community (from my Euro-centric standpoint, I had only heard of the Cuban community); and in a weird way the novel found echo in the memoir I read back in December by Pamela Druckerman, who also comes from a Jewish family in Florida. I found Aviva’s mother a bit of a caricature, but she made me laugh, and overall I liked that every character has some nuances and is not portrayed all good or all bad, with the notable exception of one particular character in Maine.
I liked the idea of switching perspectives along the book, but I didn’t really enjoy the execution. Some parts are clearly stronger than others. During the middle part, Ruby (the 10yo daughter of Aviva) is writing emails to an Indonesian pen-pal, and it was just unnecessary and boring, and the Choose-your-own-adventure section was really not the right form for me.
Still, it made me think about the weight of mistakes early on in one’s career (especially for women) and how social media makes it near impossible to turn a new page and start over when you have this kind of blemishes on your resume. I don’t know what the real-life Monica Lewinsky is doing now, and if I have learnt only one thing by reading this novel, is that I won’t Google it, because this young woman deserves to lead a good life far from the spotlights if she chooses to.