Mary Jane

Custom House: Morrow. May 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780063052291. $27.99. F
In 1975, shy, self-conscious 14-year-old Mary Jane Dillard takes a summer job as a day nanny caring for precocious five-year-old Izzy, the daughter of Mary Jane’s wealthy neighbors Richard and Bonnie Cone. Mary Jane’s own proper upbringing, with private schools, country clubs, and churchgoing, doesn’t prepare her for the Cones’ freestyle life. Mrs. Cone doesn’t wear a bra, nor does she cook or clean, and Izzy is more or less on her own. With bubbly, wisecracking Izzy at her side, Mary Jane brings order to the Cone household. But it’s temporary. Dr. Cone’s famous patient, a rock star named Jimmy, arrives for the summer for clandestine drug addiction treatment, accompanied by his movie star wife, Sheba. Mary Jane is in awe of these superstars, but when she joins the family sing-along with Jimmy’s impromptu guitar strumming, and when Sheba takes Mary Jane shopping for her first bikini, her formerly restrictive life opens up. Mary Jane navigates teen angst, R & B, marijuana, sex, and group therapy; by summer’s end, everyone, including Mary Jane’s own intolerant parents, learns about life, family, and loyalty.
VERDICT Blau’s intelligent, witty novel (after the critically acclaimed Drinking Closer to Home) captures the essence of the ’70s with humor and immensely appealing characters. Highly recommended.
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