Likely Stories: Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin

Dec 14, 2017

Humorous story of a woman who tries to escape her past by running away to Maine.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Most of my favorite comedians are Jewish.  They are uniformly funny – always in different ways – and they excel in self-deprecation.  Larry David, Fran Leibowitz, Jerry Seinfeld, Lewis Black, and countless others drive me to tears of laughter every time. Gabrielle Zevin continues this tradition with her latest novel, Young Jane Young.  Zevin's first novel Elsewhere was published in 2005.  In 2014, her eighth novel, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, debuted on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Young Jane Young is the story of Rachel Shapiro who has a daughter, Aviva, who aspires to a career in politics.  She gets involved with a candidate running for Congress in Florida and becomes pregnant and runs away to Maine.  She changes her name to Jane Young, and becomes an event planner – mostly weddings – in a small town.  Her daughter is named Ruby.  When Rachel divorces Mike, her good friend, Roz, encourages her to do some online dating.  Zevin writes, “I don’t particularly want a husband.  They’re a lot of work, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone either, and it would be nice to have someone to go to classes with is what I’m saying.  I thought online dating was for young people, but Roz says, it’s not.  ‘Even if it is,’ she says, ‘Rachel, you’re younger now than you’ll ever be’” (3-4).

Aviva keeps the secrecy of her pregnancy, but, Zevin writes, “It did not help Aviva’s cause that she had kept a blog, detailing her months working for a congressman.  The year was 2000, and I did not even know what a blog was when I found out that Aviva had been keeping one.  ‘Blog?’ I said to Aviva.  The word felt foreign on my tongue.  ‘What’s that?’ // ‘It’s short for weblog, Mom,’ Aviva said. // ‘Weblog,’ I repeated.  ‘What’s a weblog?’ // ‘It’s like a diary,’ Aviva said.  ‘It’s a diary that you keep on the Internet.’ // ‘Why would anyone do that?’ I asked.  ‘Why would you do that?’ // ‘It was anonymous.  I never used names.  Until everything happened, I had about three readers.  I was trying to make sense of my experiences by writing about them,’ she said. // ‘Then buy a diary, Aviva!’ // ‘I like typing,’ she said.  ‘And I hate my handwriting’” (55).

Aviva changes her name to Jane and she picks up the story.  By this time, Ruby is thirteen, and she becomes curious about her father.  Jane gives her a fictitious name, Mariano Donatello.   Ruby is suspicious, and she begins an internet search.  She finally stumbles on the old weblog her mother kept.  She becomes outraged at the deception of her mother.  Jane decided to run for mayor of the town, and Ruby sets out to torpedo her candidacy.

Each character has a chapter, and their varying viewpoints are interesting.  Lots of fun Yiddish words are used, and I knew a few from my high school days working in a pharmacy owned by a Jewish couple.  That may be the seed to my interest in Jewish comedians.  Nevertheless, Gabrielle Zevin’s fourth novel, Young Jane Young is a fun read for every YA reader and above.  5 stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!