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by Jessica Anya Blau
In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane lives an extremely ordered life under the shadow of her conservative, conventional, respectable parents. She loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and listening to Broadway show tunes. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s relieved not to have to go to summer camp when she lands a 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 anything but: clutter on every surface, no routine, hollering, public displays of affection, nudity and horror of horrors, cereal and takeout for dinner! Imagine Mary Jane’s shock at meeting Dr Cone with his huge side burns (“tufty goaty things that crawled down his face”), Mrs Cone with her nipples showing through her blouse (hard to tell if it was a long silk blouse or a short silk dress) and her breasts usually on the verge of being exposed and their cute little whirlwind daughter who more often than not wanders around in the nude. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she definitely does not): The doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job—helping a famous rock star dry out.
Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to a bit of order – ironed clothes, clean carpets and a family dinner schedule – and in return has a spectacularly enlightening front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. She is introduced to the “wrong” side of town, the joys of eating out, spontaneously singing the hits of the day as well as prejudices she’d never consciously recognised. And she discovers that her own name, Mary Jane, is another word for marijuana! Caught between the strait-laced lifestyle she’s always known and the progressive future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a completely new idea about what she wants out of life.
As light and delicious as a chocolate chip cookie, complete with nuggety bits and burnt edges! So much fun!
I dare you to find a more winning novel than Jessica Anya Blau’s Mary Jane. Filled with humour and sharpness and so much light, this book introduces an amazing cast of characters, all so unique and finely observed, held together by the clarity of Mary Jane’s voice. It evokes those rare moments when your world is on the precipice of change, almost a dream, and how thrilling it is to push your way toward something new. – Kevin Wilson. Author of Nothing to See Here
Delightful…Blau is a deft hand with comic juxtaposition and domestic fantasy. She keeps it light, she keeps it moving and she’s got terrific visuals…You can watch the movie in your mind. Lady Gaga as Sheba? I’m already casting it. – New York Times Book Review
I LOVED Jessica Anya Blau’s novel. Mary Jane is about an oppressed teenager being given a jolt of life and joy by an eccentric found family of therapists, a child, a rock star and a movie star in the 1970s….If you have ever sung along to a hit on the radio, in any decade, then you will devour Mary Jane at 45rpm. – Nick Hornby