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Internet scandal is forever

Cover of Young Jane Young
A review of Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

A young female intern bowled over by the charms of a worldly politician, unhappy in his marriage. Assignations in the office after hours, futile attempts to end the affair, a scandalous revelation in the press during the election cycle. A political career in the balance, a woman branded a tart and worse. Unceasing press. The political sex scandal is nothing new, the outcome for the pol limited to one of two options: immediate political suicide and obscurity, or a show of contrition and a photo-op with the Mrs. before the news cycle turns its attention to the next scandal. But what of the other person in the scandal? As the titular character in Gabrielle’s Zevin’s smart novel Young Jane Young puts it: “I’m not a murderer,” she says. “I’m a slut, and you can’t be acquitted of that.”

That character’s name is actually Aviva Grossman, poli-sci major interning at the office of her Congressman (and family friend) Aaron  Levin, proudly representing the district of Boca Raton, Florida. That is, she’s Aviva before she becomes what she refers to as ‘South Florida’s Monica Lewinsky’. And like Lewinsky, she might have been a naïve college student seduced by an older man, but her name is forever going to be linked with the mistakes of a twenty-something—especially since that twenty-something kept a blog of her interning experience.  And once it’s on the internet, it’s never going away. Hence, Aviva’s transformation into Jane Young: a woman quietly living out her life in a seaside Maine hamlet, employing her political skills to run a successful event planning business and raising her precocious daughter Ruby.  Jane has fully succeeded in burying Aviva, she thinks, and if she isn’t the lawmaker that she once saw herself as, it’s not a bad life. And then Ruby starts asking questions. 

Zevin takes an unusual path in telling Aviva’s/Jane’s story, introducing us to Aviva through the perspectives of several women before really getting to the affair. Aviva’s mother Rachel, Congressman Levin’s long suffering wife Embeth and Ruby, as well as Jane, give their aspects of the story until Aviva gets to tell it herself. Even then, it’s not what you might expect. Zevin’s sympathetic take on the double-standard that women often face relates not just to Aviva/Jane’s experiences, but is echoed in the words of the other narrators. Even though Aviva made some suspect choices, it’s the choices that were made for her after the scandal that were the most damaging. Young Jane Young is a quick read, but one with wiser, steelier heroine at its core. As Aviva/Jane makes her choice on the final page, it’s the choice of woman who’s learned from her past, and is no longer willing to run from it. 

August 23, 2017