Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau (Blog Tour)

Are you having a groovy June yet? If not, I have just the remedy: a juicy coming-of-age novel that drops you directly into the Baltimore summer of 1975. Mary Jane Dillard, 14, lives in the upper-class white neighborhood of Roland Park. Her parents are prim types who attend church every week, belong to a country club, and pray for the (Republican) president’s health before each sit-down family dinner. When Mary Jane starts working as a daytime nanny for five-year-old Izzy, the Cones’ way of life is a revelation to her. They are messy bohemians who think nothing of walking around the house half-naked, shouting up and down the stairs at each other, or leaving a fridge full of groceries to rot and going out for fast food instead.

Dr. Cone is a psychiatrist whose top-secret assignment is helping a rock star to kick his drug addiction. Jimmy and his actress wife, Sheba, move into the Cones’ attic for the summer. If they go out in public, they wear wigs and pretend to be friends visiting from Rhode Island. While the Cones are busy monitoring or trying to imitate their celebrity guests, Mary Jane introduces discipline by cleaning the kitchen, alphabetizing the bookcase, and replicating her mother’s careful weekly menus with food she buys from Eddie’s market. In some ways she seems the most responsible member of the household, but in others she’s painfully naïve, entirely ignorant of sex and unaware that her name is a slang term for marijuana.

Open marriage, sex addiction and group therapy are new concepts that soon become routine for our confiding narrator, as she adopts a ‘What they don’t know can’t hurt them’ stance towards her trusting parents. Blau is the author of four previous YA novels, and while this is geared towards adults, it resonates for how it captures the uncertainty and swirling hormones of the teenage years. Who didn’t share Mary Jane’s desperate curiosity to learn about sex? Who can’t remember a moment of realization that parents aren’t right about everything?

Music runs all through the book, creating and cementing bonds between the characters. Mary Jane sings in the choir and shares her mother’s love of both church music and show tunes. Jimmy and Sheba are always making up little songs on which Mary Jane harmonizes, and a clandestine trip to a record store in an African American part of town forms one of the novel’s pivotal scenes. The relationship between Mary Jane and Izzy, who is precocious and always coming out with malapropisms, is touching, and Blau cleverly inserts references to the casual racism and antisemitism of the 1970s.

I love it when a novel has a limited setting and can evoke a sense of wistfulness for a golden time that will never come again. I highly recommend this for nostalgic summer reading, particularly if you’ve enjoyed work by Curtis Sittenfeld – especially Prep and Rodham.

 

My thanks to Harper360 UK and Anne Cater for arranging my proof copy for review.

 

I was delighted to be part of the blog tour for Mary Jane. See below for details of where other reviews and features have appeared or will be appearing soon.

14 responses

  1. Sounds a super summer read. My formative era!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s been widely compared to Daisy Jones & the Six, but they’re very different in tone — it’s just the 1970s and music that they have in common. Both great fun, though!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a light and enjoyable read.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks so much for the blog tour support, I loved this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me too, Anne! Thanks again for arranging the tour.

      Like

  4. This does sound like a fun one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds like such fun. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Baltimore setting was a plus for me, but I think pretty much anyone would enjoy this.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great cover too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love how the record draws your focus in. The only element I’d question is the cigarette.

      Like

      1. buriedinprint

        Because she doesn’t smoke in the story?

        Like

      2. Right. A stock image, I’m sure.

        Like

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