Full of nostalgia and pathos, Mary Jane is the ideal coming of age summer read. It also comes with a great deal of humour, especially as it explores the juxtaposition within 1970s American culture between ‘respectability’ and the bohemian world of liberalism; a world that includes sex, drugs and rock and roll.
When I was young, I, like many readers was a massive fan of Judy Blume’s books. In writing Mary Jane, Jessica Anya Blau brilliantly captures the nostalgic warmth and humour of Judy Blume. I love it for this.
I also love this novel for the tender portrayal of innocence, self-discovery, love and friendship.
Whisking her readers away to the summer of 1975, Blau introduces us to Mary Jane, a naïve 14 year-old from a straight laced, conservative, religious family who lands a job as the summer nanny to the five year-old daughter of a local doctor. Mary Jane’s mother who claims her respectable family live in ‘the finest neighborhood in Baltimore‘ believes a ‘house with a doctor’ is a ‘respectable house.’ Yet unbeknown to Mary Jane’s parents, Dr Cone is a psychiatrist; and one who has cleared his diary for the summer to treat one patient, the rock star Jimmy Bendinger. Jimmy is suffering from a series of addictions including drug and sex addiction. He secretly moves into the chaotic household of the Cone family and brings along with him his movie star wife, Sheba.
During the summer, Mary Jane is introduced to the world of sex, drugs and rock and roll in such an endearing way. She also believes (quite comically) that she is a sex addict.
Through the bohemian lifestyle of the Cone family, along with Sheba and Jimmy, Mary Jane discovers a liberalism which massively conflicts with the constraining, judgmental values of her family. This is a freedom that Mary Jane finds herself increasingly attracted to. Subsequently she finds herself lying to her parents more and more, especially as she increasingly questions the close-minded beliefs of her mother and father.
I love a good character driven novel and Mary Jane is just that. The diverse relationships that Mary Jane has with the other characters in the novel are full of emotional depth. For me, I especially enjoyed the changing relationship between Mary Jane and her mother. Full of emotional, conflicting layers, this relationship is brilliantly portrayed. I was left feeling really emotional as I reached the end of their shared story.
As a reader I really empathised with Mary Jane – she is a character full of warmth, integrity and emotional intelligence. As Jimmy wisely points out, even though Mary Jane is only 14, she is the most adult of them all.
Thank you to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to the blog tour of this tender, humorous novel which was published in the UK on 27th May 2021. To follow the reviews from my fellow book bloggers also on the tour, please see below.
Happy reading everyone! 🙂