You can discover the reason for my choosing this book by just reading the small sentence at the very top of the cover: "The New York Times bestselling author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry." I loved A.J. Fikry and I knew I wouldn't be wasting my time with Gabrielle Zevin's newest book, Young Jane Young. What if Monica Lewinsky had moved away, changed her name, become someone else? Could she have started a new life? What was her vilification like for the people around her? How were they all affected by the scandal that ensued following her falling in love with a charismatic political leader who also happened to be her boss? There is, of course, no need to rehash the details of that situation, but just the mention of that young woman's name is enough to evoke an emotional response in most people.
In Zevin's book, Aviva Grossman is a young woman in her early 20s just beginning what she hopes will be a long, successful career in politics. As many young hopefuls do, she started as an intern in the office of her local congressman. I'm sure you can take a guess at what happened from my Lewinsky reference. Aviva is so young, and she makes a terrible mistake, but much like what happened to Ms. Lewinsky, Aviva paid a terrible price while her much older boss, her superior who should have known better, is able to move on with his life and not have to face the consequences every single day. Told through the alternating viewpoints of three generations of women- Aviva, her mother, and her daughter, Ruby-, as well as the wife of the congressman, we are able to see the far reach of internet infamy.
The characters in this book are delicious. I especially loved Ruby's quick wit and the way Aviva grows into herself. Aviva's mother, Rachel is full of strength and love for her daughter and even Mrs. Levin, the congressman's wife, is likable. Why shouldn't she be? Add in the elderly woman who becomes Aviva's friend later in life who is a staunch feminist and you have yourself a very well assembled cast of women with whom I would love to be friends.
I adored this quote from Ruby when she is describing the fictional (though it should absolutely be real) Future Girls' Leadership Initiative:
"...at FGLI, our motto is 'Embrace the fugly.' For too long, the threat of being called ugly has been used to silence and disempower women. By embracing the fugly, we say we don't care if you think we're attractive. We're powerful and we're smart and that's what matters."
I'd join that group, wouldn't you? I wonder how I can start a chapter?
I'd also like to share this quote with you from Rachel. I think it very clearly gets to the core of what was wrong with all the scuttlebutt surrounding the White House in the late 1990s.
Levin was an adult man and an elected public official, and my daughter was a dumb kid in love, and he ended up fine, and she's a punch line.
I'll end this post with a link to the wonderful TED talk by Ms. Lewinsky. She has much to say about shame in our society and I think it is well worth the 20 minute viewing time. Hopefully it will soften any remaining feelings you may have about her.