I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Mary Jane, the title character gets a summer job at a doctor’s home to babysit his daughter. She discovers upon beginning to work there, though, that the doctor has a patient and his wife staying at the house over the summer—and the patient is a recovering drug addict/famous rock star. Mary Jane knows her very conservative parents won’t approve, but as she spends more time at the house, she learns that there might be other ways of living than she’s been brought up to believe.
As you might imagine from the title, Mary Jane carries a lot of this story herself, and she does a pretty good job. She’s quite naive due to her sheltered upbringing by her narrow-minded parents, but it isn’t an annoying trait. As she learns more—about things like love, marriage, fame, and family—she grows more sure of herself even as her ingrained beliefs are turned upside down. Her gradual evolution is very well paced and explored, and I really liked seeing how she began to bloom into a strong young adult.
The other characters all have loads of personality, especially Izzy and Jimmy. The dialogue is fantastic, funny, emotional, and real-sounding. I liked Dr. Cone and Sheba, though Mrs. Cone and Mary Jane’s parents weren’t my favorites. They were a little one-dimensional and at times pretty frustrating. However, in terms of the latter, they were believably frustrating, because I’ve definitely heard people talk and act the way they do.
This book explores some complex things, like grappling with addiction and self doubt, the troubles of being a celebrity, problems with communication in marriage, and how there can be different ways to nurture children. I did find it kind of odd that Dr. and Mrs. Cone were so scatterbrained and seemingly okay with their daughter eating whatever food she wanted all the time, but the emotional support they provided was still good. I also thought it seemed unlikely that Dr. Cone, a psychiatrist, would be so calm about Mary Jane and Izzy being privy to some of the drama that ensued between the (rather immature) adults in the house. It’s quite a dysfunctional setting, on the whole, but I suppose that was the point—neither Mary Jane’s home nor the Cones’ place are perfect, but both serve to shape her into the person she wants to become.
In the end, I quite liked Mary Jane. Rife with rich characterization, snappy dialogue, wonderful character development, and lots of summertime 1970s drama, this book is a pretty great coming-of-age tale. I found it surprisingly wholesome for a book you’d think would involve nothing but sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll. It doesn’t shy away from serious topics, and definitely has some adult language and discussions, but in the end it’s moving, hopeful, and fun.
Overall rating: 8.7/10
Mary Jane will be published on May 11th, 2021!