• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

In Blau's gleefully 1970s-set novel, Mary Jane doesn't merely shift from emotional innocence to young adulthood, she comes into her own, and it's a joy to watch it all unfold.

In Jessica Anya Blau's novel Mary Jane, we're in 1970s Baltimore (with all of the glorious, immersive details of the era), and straitlaced teen Mary Jane has landed a nanny job with a nearby family. The Coneses are a "respectable" family, her mother says approvingly, and the father of the family is a psychiatrist.

The doctor has only one current patient, a famous rock star with addiction problems, and in an unorthodox shift, the musician and his equally famous wife move in with the doctor's family while the star struggles with his issues. Sheltered Mary Jane suddenly has a front-row seat to wild behavior, musical experimentation, group therapy, and all sorts of other eye-opening events.

Mary Jane lies to her conservative, protective, socially focused parents in order to immerse herself in the Cones' world, yet she is exceedingly responsible and level-headed as she cares beautifully for Izzy. She serves as a foil to the impulsive, emotional, passionate adults she's surrounded by.

Mary Jane eagerly learns about varied music and musical expression, about sharing raw emotions, and about feeling more easy and relaxed in her skin. Yet she doesn't abandon her love of singing in the choir, she loves her parents even as she disagrees with them on some points (and is now brave enough to say so), and she doesn't rebel as much as she blossoms into her true self. Her emotional growth didn't feel too easy.

The character of Mary Jane doesn't merely shift from innocence to young adulthood in various ways; she comes into her own and also makes valued contributions to the complicated, loving, volatile household community. It's a joy to watch it all unfold. By the time summer is over, Mary Jane understands how many more possibilities there are for her future than she's ever dreamed of, and she has in turn changed those around her.

The details of the ending were fun and so satisfying I delighted in them and didn't mind any implausibility. Blau explores interesting gray areas and provides lots of heart and unexpected elements in Mary Jane.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Blau is also the author of six other books.

Because of the music involved in the story, Mary Jane reminded me of the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Rockin' Stories about Bands and Music.