Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin

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At first glance, Young Jane Young is about scandal, which I happen to like. Quirky, offbeat and often hilarious, the many narrators of “Jane’s” tale are both original and highly entertaining. When you begin to peel back the layers of this complicated and (at times) emotionally eviscerating tale of Aviva Grossman and the people who orbit around her life, it becomes clear that at its heart, Young Jane Young is an exploration of the politics of relationships.

Marriage, She Wrote

Throughout this book, there were several moments where women of all ages were put in submissive positions, or were in some way forced to escape from uncomfortable situations. Aviva’s mother takes us through the trials and tribulations of dating as an older woman, Franny is constantly subdued by her husband and Aviva herself is thrown into the middle of a controversy when she has an affair with a married congressman.

What I found most interesting about this narrative thread was the constant return to the idea of marital fidelity and the role of the women involved. In several of the interconnected storylines, there are married men who are  unfaithful, but each time, it is always the woman who is judged. This is made particularly evident with Aviva’s Grossman, who we learn from the beginning that she has changed her name just to escape the scandal. I think that Gabrielle Zevin creates a lot of strong moments within her narrative that will make readers think more deeply about relationship inequalities and in particular, slut shaming.

A Complicated Kindess

Along with the hardships such as slut shaming that many of the female characters face, Young Jane Young has a lot of funny, sweet moments that kept me reading late into the night. I loved Aviva’s relationship with her daughter, Ruby and their closeness. Although I felt that Ruby’s section of narrative felt disconnected from the other non-epistolary parts, her story was necessary (and completely devastating). What I loved the most about these female narratives was that the characters felt honest and their relationships, though flawed, were enjoyable to follow. I felt like nothing was simple and that made it all the more fascinating to read.

An Intelligent, Multi-layered Narrative

Read this book if you love quick-paced books with lots of narrative layers. Each time I picked up this book, I felt like I was discovering new elements to the story that only deepened my fascination with the characters and their ongoing plights. Zevin even makes references to The Scarlet Letter and Robert McNamera’s “mutually assured destruction,” which were clever details that added to the overarching ideas.

I’m glad that I was given an Advanced Reader Copy of Young Jane Young, because it is an intelligent and funny read that I feel is particularly relevant right now with all of the scandals that are going on in Hollywood right now. Barring that, it’s an exceptionally written story that was a lot of fun to read.

 

 

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Book Review: The Jane Austen Project, by Kathleen A. Flynn

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When I think about Jane Austen, admittedly, my first thought is of Colin Firth in the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice jumping into that darn lake in his white, blousy shirt and looking fine. I don’t know what it says about me as a reader, but I do know that Kathleen A. Flynn’s The Jane Austen Project was a deeply satisfying read that was, in places, evocative of that glorious wet-shirt version of Colin Firth. Equal parts thriller, historical fiction and romance, there is a lot to admire about this book.

I’m a sucker for a good time travel narrative, and I feel like Flynn’s story had it all. Not unlike Jack Finney’s Time and Again, Rebecca and Liam have a somewhat seamless entry into Jane Austen’s 1815, where they are supposed to meet and befriend Jane Austen in order to diagnose the disease that will purportedly kill her and steal an unwritten manuscript, “The Watsons.” However, their so-called seamless plan quickly begins to go awry when Rebecca meddles too much in the course of history…

Time Travel, at its Best

What I loved about Flynn’s version time travel was that it was not overly complicated.  We learn early on that Liam and Rebecca come from a future where time travel exists, but the only technical jargon that Flynn uses was the “access point” to the portal and the “spectronanometer,” which helps them find their portal. I liked this, because it didn’t bog down the narrative and kept the story feeling accessible.

Even so, Rebecca’s flashbacks to The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics were fascinating. I loved reading about their preparation for living in 1815 and the theoretical possibility of changing the future world that Rebecca comes from by intervening too much in 1815. While this is a convention often used in time travel narratives, I felt that Flynn used it well.

See Jane Live

As a bit of a Jane Austen fangirl, I loved Flynn’s characterization of Jane Austen. Paired with the specific and (I think) historically accurate details of Jane Austen’s life and her time period, it made for a lovely reading experience. While I have previously enjoyed Jane Austen’s books, I hadn’t learned much about the author behind the works. (I had no idea that Jane Austen died at 41 or that she really did write “The Watsons” and never published it). At the end of The Jane Austen Project, I felt like had befriended Jane Austen and it was evident that as a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America Kathleen A. Flynn must have done a lot of research for The Jane Austen Project.

With a healthy dose of historical details, a bit of spying and romance thrown in the mix, The Jane Austen Project is a great, quick read that any time-travel buff or Jane Austen fan should pick up!

 

 

Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan: A Book Review

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Jennifer Egan, known for her unique form, has a new book out and while it is a departure from the stories that we have loved, I’ll bet you that Manhattan Beach is going to be a new favourite. (At least, it is for me). I received the ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Part mystery, part historical epic, Manhattan Beach has something for just about everyone.

Three Stories

While some reviewers may claim that the book feels disjointed, I liked the variety between the storylines and felt that they intersected in interesting and unexpected ways. Perhaps those readers who first fell in love with A Visit From the Goon Squad weren’t expecting a narrative that follows a different and more linear path.

Egan takes us from the Great Depression into World War Two, splitting the narrative voices between Anna, who struggles to find a place among the men at the naval stockyard, Anna’s father and Dexter Styles (a night club owner). Was it a shock to be suddenly dropped into he 1940’s with an adult Anna? Sure. But I felt that the resulting mystery of Eddie’s disappearance made up for this jolt in the narrative time-frame. It was fascinating to see such a well-researched historical novel unfold from three different points of view, because it added a well-rounded perspective to the story.

A Feisty Heroine

Who doesn’t love an awesome, strong heroine to cheer on? Perhaps my favourite part of Manhattan Beach was following Anna as she becomes the first woman diver in New York Harbour. At a recent interview at the Toronto Public Library Appel Salon, Jennifer Egan mentioned that she interviewed the real-life inspiration for Anna’s character and that a lot of her research was about going beneath the surface of the time that she was writing in, to bring more emotional depth to her characters. With Anna’s character in particular, I felt that this was true.

If you love books that celebrate feisty women and take you on a wild ride through the seedy gang world of New York in the 1930’s-1940’s, pick up a copy of Manhattan Beach.