Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
Narrated by Caitlin Kinnunen
Women’s Fiction. 1970s.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau is my favorite book so far this year! It’s a character-based coming-of-age story from the POV of 14-year-old Mary Jane in 1975. Make no mistake though, this is an adult book. I was 8 in 1975, but with two older sisters, I remember a lot of the pop culture of the times, and I loved all the references.
Mary Jane comes from a strict Christian home, sings in the church choir, her parents belong to a WASPy country club, and she is expected to help her mother plan and cook menus for the week. Her father just works and comes home and sits in his chair. Instead of going to summer camp like her friends, Mary Jane has taken a job as a nanny for Dr. and Mrs. Cone and their adorable, yet precocious 5-year-old daughter, Izzy. Though her parents didn’t like the fact that they were Jews, they let her work there because I guess being a Doctor made up for it.
Dr. and Mrs. Cone were the opposite of Mary Jane’s parents, both in good ways and bad. Bonnie Cone didn’t wear a bra, nor did she cook or clean. But they are both very loving and open, something Mary Jane has never seen before. Dr. Cone is a Psychiatrist who is treating a famous rock star for drug and sex addiction, and he and his very famous wife are staying with the Cones for the summer, but it’s a secret, and Mary Jane can’t tell anyone. Besides, her parents would FREAK OUT.
“In the Cone family, there was no such thing as containment. Feelings were splattered around the household with the intensity of a spraying fire hose. I was terrified of what I might witness or hear tonight. But along with that terror, my fondness for the Cones only grew. To feel something was to feel alive. And to feel alive was starting to feel like love.”
Mary Jane was instantly embraced into this large makeshift family. She was also the person, at 14, who took care of all of them, cooking her mother’s meals and cleaning the mess of a house, all the while taking amazing care of the adorable Izzy. Seeing Mary Jane come into her own and experience how other people live outside of her strict WASPy upbringing was wonderful. She was openly loved and hugged and felt like part of the family.
“I thought of our Christmas photos. I’d always thought that waxy strangers-in-an-elevator look was just because no one in my family was comfortable in front of a camera. But now I wondered if it was because no one in my family was comfortable with any other person in my family.”
Jimmy (the rock star) and Sheba (his wife) felt like they may have been based on Gregg Allman and Cher, which for me made this even cooler. My son toured with one of the Allman Brothers. We met Gregg. And I stood right next to Cher while my son played at Gregg Allman’s memorial. I loved Sheba so much, she was like a big sister/mentor to Mary Jane, and I even loved Jimmy, despite his shortcomings.
There were definitely some social issues that were covered: racism, antisemitism, addiction, parenting styles, religion, and music. But don’t expect a lot to happen to take away from the quiet, endearing story. I noticed a lot of people complain about Mary Jane being marketed like Daisy Jones meets Almost Famous, but I actually thought of both of them while reading. Though they aren’t similar in story, I think if you like those, you’ll like Mary Jane.
- The 70s atmosphere.
- How sheltered, sweet, and innocent Mary Jane is.
- I loved Sheba so much.
- Izzy was an adorable character.
- The music.
- How social issues are shown but they never hit you over the head.
- The Cones were dysfunctional but loving, the Dillards were strict and cold but good parents in their own way.
- How much the Cones loved Mary Jane.
- I loved it all except the “Cones?” I feel like the author has heard the name Cohen for Jews and spelled it wrong.
Caitlin Kinnunen was phenomenal in Mary Jane and her narration absolutely contributed to this 5+ star rating. Audiobook listeners even get a special treat of an original song at the end.
The Down & Dirty:
Rating: 5+++ Stars, Narration 5+++
Purchase Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
*A note about the covers*