Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Published by Viking on August 29th, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
“I’m not a murderer,” she says. “I’m a slut, and you can’t be acquitted of that.”
Whoa. I had no idea what I was in for when I picked this up. To be honest, I was intrigued by the book cover and bought it on a whim. But I’m so happy that I did.
Aviva Grossman is the Monica Lewinsky of Florida. A young Jewish woman gets an internship working with a congressman, but she soon finds herself in an affair with the much older and very much married man. Unfortunately, the affair becomes public and Congressman Levin gets off with just a few jabs in the press. Him, his marriage, and his career remains intact. Meanwhile, Aviva has had her reputation run into the ground and has her life completely ruined.
It’s a story that’s become familiar to us in the media. And it always plays out the same way. The young woman is slut-shamed and has trouble being able to move on from the event because it will never leave her. She’s been “marked” for life.
As you can see, the book takes a lot of inspiration from the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal. Zevin takes a story we know all too well and forces us to see the double-standards in media and politics, and the blatant sexism women experience in any kind of scandal.
It was frustrating to read the abuse hurled at Aviva and her family members affected by the scandal. And one thing that I kept saying to myself was, “But she was a young woman. She was an intern. And he was older and in a position of power. How can nobody understand that?”
It brought back memories of me saying the same thing to other women during an internship I had. It shocked me that other interns were saying absolutely terrible things about women in sex scandals and how they so easily blamed women for everything. But, of course, this was before #MeToo.
I loved reading the book through the perspective of the three women affected by the scandal. The three generations of women in the family who were struggling to deal with the event internally and externally. It devastated Aviva and everyone close to her, but it didn’t make a dent on Levin’s side. It shows that women can’t be lumped in together. Everyone has a unique experience and voice.
This is such an important book as we continue to grapple with equality, feminism, and the treatment of women post-#MeToo. It’s a reminder that usually our first instinct is wrong. However you act or want to think about a woman in any kind of scandal is usually borne out of institutionalized sexism. It’s insidious.
While I loved the characters and the story, I also appreciated the author playing around with form throughout the book. The email exchange was a fantastic way to get to know Ruby’s perspective. And I especially loved the Choose Your Own Adventure part of the book. It was a clever way to portray the scandal in a flashback.
I loved that the characters were allowed to be flawed, openly made mistakes, and had regrets. This truly is a powerful feminist story and I recommend it to women of all ages.