Everyone is a little Young Jane Young

Originally published December 2017

Or at least knows a Young Jane Young.

So who is right and who is wrong and who is innocent and who is guilty when at best, moral standards, and at worst, criminal ones, are compromised? How fair is it that the Court of Public Opinion can be an unforgiving bitch?

Gabrielle Zevin’s latest bestseller is especially timely in the midst of the #metoo-slash-sexual-harrassment-awareness movement — the tale of a Congressional intern that falls for her boss and, when the secret of their affair is unleashed on a scandal-hungry public, finds herself judged and scorned to the point that only a change in identity can clear a path to the future.

And even despite a name change, a geographical change, a career change and a life change, the past, especially in the age of Google, will always catch up with you.

One of the immediate takeaways from Young Jane Young is that the impact of poor decisions rarely, if ever, is limited to just the person that makes them. Zevin’s use of perspective through multiple narrators — Aviva/Jane, Rachel, Ruby, Embeth — reminds readers that there are any number of people that have to live with the consequences of someone’s supposed moral failing. But does that mean the sinner should forever have to pay for the sin? When a crime takes place but it’s not something you can prosecute and assign a specific prison term to, how long does that person have to remained virtually jailed?

There are relatively few characters in this book that can bypass the blame buffet in Young Jane Young. Aviva’s mother’s ability to calmly look the other way in her own marriage could be one reason Aviva wasn’t exactly hesitant about proceeding with an affair. Aaron’s wife Embeth and her definition of love for the congressman makes it easy for her to forgive his role in the affair whilst holding Aviva to another standard. Much like real life, we humans are willing to reach for excuses in the name of those we love while throwing others under the bus for similar if not identical, questionable, actions.

I think what I find most impressive, though, is Zevin’s growth chart for Aviva’s character arc. In the beginning, she’s the girl that I think so many of us were or could have been in our less responsible, more self-absorbed youth. The girl that makes a mistake and trusts that her heart is right and society is wrong. When she aptly recognizes one door has closed, she’s smart enough to create and open a new one. And is eventually willing to accept the cross she’ll forever have to bear because in the last decade, she’s borne witness to any number of crimes in that Court of Public Opinion and knows, one, she’s not alone and two, the only juror that really matters is the one within.

Witty, engaging, humorous and human — a really fast read and well worth picking up.

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