Flash Review: Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

Mary Jane is a novel about the seventies and its music. What's not to like? Well...

If I could choose an era in which I’d like to grow up, it would be the sixties and the seventies. The music, the fashion, the culture… I often feel like I don’t belong in my thirty-one-year-old body, like I am so much older than that, mentally. Anyway, that’s why I decided to read Jessica Anya Blau’s novel Mary Jane, which is about a girl in the seventies who sees her world expand in the course of one glorious summer. Want to know whether it’s any good? Read on!

Mary Jane is a girl from a strict religious household, who decides to become a summer nanny to five-year-old Izzy Cone, in the year 1975. She knows show tunes and gospels, and she hardly watches tv. The Cones, however, are very different; Mr Cone is a renowned psychiatrist and is treating addict rock star Jimmy, from the famous band Running Water. He also brought his movie superstar wife Sheba (first name only) with him. During this summer, Mary Jane realises that she wants to escape from the clutches of her narrow-minded mother and explore who she is supposed to be.

When I first read about Mary Jane, I knew I wanted to read this novel. It has the coming-of-age arc, the juxtaposition of traditional values versus progressive ideas, and of course the music, and those are all ingredients I like. Well, turns out that a combination of all the right ingredients doesn’t necessarily make a tasty dish. Blau’s novel feels like fast food rather than a balanced diet.

Ironically, cooking is the one thing that binds Mary Jane to the Cone family; they’re a dysfunctional family which refuses to cook and clean. Imagine their joy when there’s a fourteen-year-old girl who makes them dinner every night! While I like the idea of a girl finding out she’s worth much more than she’s been given credit for, I didn’t like the Cone family much, because they neglect their own child. They shout obscenities in front of her, never bathe her, and hardly even talk to her. And this bugged me: how can a psychiatrist treat his daughter so carelessly?

That’s probably because he spends too much time with rockstar Jimmy, who is little more than an overgrown, spoiled child. Since he’s famous and a so-called, he gets away with everything; scoring heroine while he’s supposed to be clean, and cheating on his wife with a woman who lives in the neighbourhood. Yes, of course, his backstory is explained, but it’s all quite cliché. And then there’s that wife, Sheba, whose major annoyance is the fact that she’s undercover and there are no adoring crowds around. All she helps Mary Jane with is to dress her in fewer and shorter clothes. Oh, and the family absolutely love her. Oh, and she also turns out to be a marvellous singer. Oh, she’s simply perfect.

There’s one problem about it all: Mary Jane’s mother wouldn’t approve of her new life. That’s why Mary Jane lies. Obviously, her mother finds out anyway and is angry at Mary Jane at first (also, what’s up with that name? It’s such a cheap joke to call her Mary Jane, because it’s synonymous with marijuana), but of course, in the end, her mother turns out to be very proud of her independent daughter, indeed. Duh.

I often groaned while reading this book. That’s because Mary Jane is a predictable novel about a girl on the verge of growing up. And while the stereotypical characters are quite annoying, the worst part of Blau’s novel is that the music isn’t even that important. Only at the very end of the novel does Mary Jane finally venture a trip to a record store, and that’s when all those great seventies artists are mentioned. It’s as though the author realised a tad too late that this book was supposed to be about music. Well, it wasn’t.

The problem is, I don’t quite know what exactly it was about.

What did you think of Mary Jane? If you could choose an era to grow up in, which would it be? Do you have a favourite artist from the seventies? Please let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

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