“Young Jane Young” by Gabrielle Zevin, author of the New York Times bestseller “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” is about a young college student, Aviva Grossman, who has an affair with the congressman she’s interning under. It documents the lives of four characters from their points of view 13 years after the affair and subsequent scandal: Aviva’s mother, Aviva herself, Aviva’s daughter and the congressman’s wife. The section about Aviva’s mother, Rachel, is touching and original as it documents her search for a partner through online dating, as well as her account of Aviva’s affair – a lot of worry and meddling, trying to end the affair before the public finds out about it – and the fallout from the public’s discovery.
By presenting a novel that delves into the life of Aviva – the “slutty” woman whose stereotype has become all too prevalent in today’s society – Zevin offers a deft counterargument in the form of a well-crafted story. The book raises powerful questions about who receives the blame in such Monica Lewinsky-esque scenarios. While who’s at fault is a two-way street, it’s often just the female figure who shoulders the majority of the blame in the public eye, her reputation and future destroyed. The congressman gets off easy in the story, but Zevin successfully paints him as the more malicious of the two.
Aviva, who has reinvented herself as Jane Young, becomes a compassionate and successful young woman and mother to her 13-year-old daughter Ruby. When she decides to run for office and fulfill her long-lost political aspirations, though, trouble arises and the past is not so far away.
“Young Jane Young” does leave a few holes in the story, though. Why does the congressman’s wife, Embeth, dislike Aviva’s mother so much? How does Rachel make up with her best friend Roz? What happens to Embeth? Furthermore, the intern supervisor in the congressman’s office changes gender a few times.
The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story aspect of the last part, which is told from Aviva’s perspective, is an interesting twist that might at first confuse readers, because it outlines choices Aviva could make. Ultimately, though, the choice is already made for the reader, because Aviva’s choices have already been made by Aviva herself. Of course, this only serves to highlight how Aviva’s story and the affair and ensuing scandal could have been avoided if she had made even one different decision.
The novel also has themes of forgiveness and moving forward with one’s life after disaster strikes. Aviva is forced to come to terms with who she was. During the months after the scandal comes out, Aviva reflects on how life is not like a Choose Your Own Adventure story: “You think that if your life were a Choose Your Own Adventure story – let’s call it “Intern!” – this would be the point where it would say THE END. You would have made enough poor choices for the story to have had a bad ending. The only redemption would be in going back to the beginning and starting again. This isn’t an option for you, because you are a person and not a character in a Choose Your Own Adventure.”
“Young Jane Young”
By Gabrielle Zevin
Algonquin Books, 320 pages