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Review: Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

Title: Mary Jane

Author: Jessica Anya Blau

Year Published: 2021

Category: Adult fiction (historical)
Pages: 320
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map) USA (MD, DE)

Summary (from Amazon): In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Show Tunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, Impeachment: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): the doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job—helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be. 

  I was looking forward to a fun book after my last heavy nonfiction. And the cover is so evocative of an era so I was pulled in before I read the summary or the first page! I loved this novel. 

I always read the acknowledgements of a book, I'm not sure why, but I enjoy them. In hers, Blau thanks her family including Sheridan Blau (her dad). I know a Sheridan Blau. He was the Director of the South Coast Writing Project that I attended in 1999. I am still tangentially involved with the program and did a presentation to participants just a few weeks ago. Anyway, it turns out this author is his daughter! Now I want to read her other novels as a friend told me they are set in Santa Barbara. It makes me happy that I loved the book not knowing this little tidbit.

Anyway, this is a wonderful coming of age novel set in the mid-1970s and it really captures the era well, the balance between those living in a "traditional" home and those who are embracing a more free lifestyle. The author also captured the tensions between races and religions. Mary Jane is caught in between and loving every minute. In particular, I like that she feels loved and appreciated in her employer's house, something that is missing at home.

While reading this book I smiled, got teary, and laughed so it gave me all the feels. The mark of a good book. I liked all the characters, felt that their experiences and feeling were real, and liked the path the story too. I think it helped that the mid-70s was my growing up era so the music and clothes are evocative of a time that I lived through. 

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Historical fiction--1970s
  • Literary Escapes--Delaware
  • Popsugar--Title is the same as a song title (Rick James "Mary Jane")

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