Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young

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Young Jane Young Summary

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Drawing inspiration from the Monica Lewinsky scandal and other similar stories, Gabrielle Zevin’s novel Young Jane Young (2017) is a commentary on the societal shaming that women caught in high-profile sexual scandals undergo. It is split into four parts, each narrated by a woman involved in a political sex scandal in Florida. The central figure is Aviva Grossman, a young woman who has an affair with her Congressman boss.

The first section of the book is titled “Bubbe Meise,” Yiddish for old wives’ tale. It is told from the perspective of Rachel, an elderly Jewish woman who is getting back into dating following a divorce. During a date, she mentions the name of her daughter Aviva, and her date notes that that’s the same name as the girl who got caught in a sex scandal a few years back, calling her a “blight on civilization.” After the date, Rachel thinks back to what happened.

Aviva had been a bright and ambitious young congressional intern when she started an affair with her boss, Congressman Levin. When she tells her mother about the affair, Rachel urges her to break it off. However, believing that she and Levin are in love, Aviva continues sleeping with him. Rachel asks her own mother for advice, and she tells her to tell Levin’s wife in the hope that will make him end it.

Following her mother’s advice, Rachel thinks that the affair is over, but soon afterward, Aviva and Levin are in a car crash together. The subsequent investigation exposes their affair; the scandal blows up when Aviva’s anonymous blog is discovered, in which she shares all the details. Publicly shamed and mocked, Aviva hides in her mother’s home until the two women have an arguement, and Aviva leaves the state.

Back in the present day, Rachel does not know where Aviva is. Her daughter calls her once or twice a year to check up on her, and Rachel thinks that she has a granddaughter, but there is otherwise no correspondence between them. Rachel is saddened by this situation.

Section 2 is told from the perspective of Jane Young, Aviva’s new identity. After leaving Florida, she fled to a small town in Maine and took up a new identity as an event planner. She has an eight-year-old daughter called Ruby. She organizes a wedding for a couple, Wes and Franny, despite disliking Wes, who is trying to get into politics. After the wedding, Wes threatens Jane by telling her he knows her secret, but she stays in control by using information she has on Franny to keep him quiet.

Section 3 takes place a few years later, from thirteen-year-old Ruby’s perspective told entirely in the form of emails to an Indonesian pen pal Fatima. Ruby explains that her mother is running for mayor against a man called Wes. During the campaign, Ruby finds out about her mother’s secret and her real identity and is furious with her. She has trouble thinking of her mother in a sexual way. Calling Jane a “slut,” Ruby runs away to Florida to find Levin, whom she believes is her father.

Section 4 is told from the perspective of Levin’s wife, Embeth, on the day of their big thirtieth wedding anniversary party. In the morning, Levin leaves for work in Washington, D.C., as he is busy with a reelection campaign. He promises to be back in the evening for the party. With him gone, Embeth hallucinates a parrot. We discover that, following a fight with cancer the previous year, Embeth has been left mentally ill and physically weakened.

She does to the doctor’s to have a suspicious lump inspected. While there, she gets a call saying that Aviva Grossman’s daughter is at her office. She claims to be Levin’s daughter. Embeth goes to pick up Ruby, intending to leave her with Rachel, but she can’t find the old woman. As Embeth and Ruby spend the day together, they bond, understanding each other. Embeth reaches Rachel, who picks Ruby up, leaving Embeth to get ready for the party.

The party begins, and Levin is nowhere to be seen. He doesn’t arrive until halfway through the speech, which they were supposed to give together. The second Levin arrives, the parrot that Embeth has been hallucinating disappears.

In the final section, Aviva has a flashback to when she was young, starting the first day of her internship. Aviva wears tight clothing that is considered inappropriate by her boss, especially due to her curvy figure. She is told she will have to get new clothes before she can continue working there. Aviva is left to cry in the office alone, where Levin finds her and comforts her. Back home, an upset Aviva chooses to vent her feelings in an anonymous blog.

Aviva and Levin start seeing each other, staying together for several months. He breaks it off before she starts her summer vacation from college, but then asks to get back together shortly after. Aviva is hired because of her good work as an intern, but she decides to quit so she can stay away from Levin, knowing that the affair is a bad idea.

During her two weeks’ notice, the car crash happens, the scandal breaks, and Aviva enters her depressive state, hiding in her mother’s house and reading children’s books all day. She tries to get in touch with Levin, but his assistant Jorge comes to the house to tell her to not contact Levin again. The two end up sleeping together, and she becomes pregnant from the one-night stand.

With money from her grandmother, she runs away to Maine and starts a new life. She lives a happy and quiet life for a while but, eventually, decides to get back into politics and run for mayor. Her secret leaks during the campaign and her daughter runs away to Florida. Aviva calls Rachel, who brings Ruby back home. Reunited with her mother and daughter, Aviva chooses to accept her past. The book ends as she heads to the polls to vote for herself.

Gabrielle Zevin is best known for her novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, a New York Times bestseller, as well as her debut novel, Elsewhere. She is also an award-winning screenplay writer for the film Conversations with Other Women, starring Helena Bonham-Carter and Aaron Eckhart. Young Jane Young, her latest novel, was widely praised by critics for its smart treatment of public slut-shaming in the media.