Review: Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young, Gabrielle Zevin

Published August 22nd 2017 by Algonquin Books

Hardcover, 294 pages

Source: ARC from ALA Annual Meeting

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Young Jane Young‘s heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.

How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.

Gabrielle Zevin’s Storied Life of AJ Fikry was one my favorites that I’ve read in the last several years so I was very excited to get to Young Jane Young.  What a completely different book! If you were not hiding under a rock during the Clinton years then Aviva’s story will sound remarkably familiar to the Monica Lewinsky happenings.  Aviva’s story is told in alternating perspectives from her own side of things as well as that of her mother, her daughter, and the wife of the cheating Congressman. Everyone’s life is rocked by the Congressman’s inability to keep his pants on, yet life just goes on for him. Aviva’s life can’t go on as it was thanks to the media coverage and so she changes it.  She does what she has to do so that she can start to live again – becoming Jane Young. 

Jane/Aviva’s part of the book is told in a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure format which I loved.  Aviva knows as she’s diarying her life that she isn’t making great choices – we all sometimes know that though right?  I appreciated that Zevin made Aviva smart enough that she had all her thoughts laid out and though she makes some truly bad choices she finds a way past them.  I remember reading that Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves couldn’t get past the style so it wasn’t for everyone, but I thought it was a clever way to get inside Aviva’s head and decision making.  I enjoyed following the repercussions of the affair through the other characters and over time.  

Aviva’s story didn’t move me to tears like AJ Fikry but instead had me laughing at some of the snark.  Definitely still a great read. Now I really have to get on to Gabrielle Zevin’s backlist of books.

Thank you Algonquin Books for this advance copy in exchange for a long overdue review! 

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Review: Making the Monster

Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Kathryn Harkup

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 6th 2018 by Bloomsbury SIGMA

Source: Copy received from publisher

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The year 1818 saw the publication of one of the most influential science-fiction stories of all time. Frankenstein: Or, Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley had a huge impact on gothic horror and science fiction genres. The name Frankenstein has become part of our everyday language, often used in derogatory terms to describe scientists who have overstepped a perceived moral line. But how did a 19-year-old woman with no formal education come up with the idea for an extraordinary novel such as Frankenstein? The period of 1790-1820 saw huge advances in our understanding of electricity and physiology. Sensational science demonstrations caught the imagination of the general public, and newspapers were full of tales of murderers and resurrectionists.

It is unlikely that Frankenstein would have been successful in his attempts to create life back in 1818. However, advances in medical science mean we have overcome many of the stumbling blocks that would have thwarted his ambition. We can resuscitate people using defibrillators, save lives using blood transfusions, and prolong life through organ transplants–these procedures are nowadays considered almost routine. Many of these modern achievements are a direct result of 19th century scientists conducting their gruesome experiments on the dead.

Making the Monster explores the science behind Shelley’s book. From tales of reanimated zombie kittens to electrical experiments on human cadavers, Kathryn Harkup examines the science and scientists that influenced Mary Shelley and inspired her most famous creation, Victor Frankenstein. While, thankfully, we are still far from being able to recreate Victor’s “creature,” scientists have tried to create the building blocks of life, and the dream of creating life-forms from scratch is now tantalizingly close.

I confess, I still haven’t read Frankenstein.  It’s on my list – especially after how much I loved Romantic Outlaws about Mary Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft.  But I admit I’ve spent most of the last 18 months reading fluff and I’m not ashamed.  In the future though – Frankenstein and Anna Karenina – I’m coming for you!  So, back to Mary Shelley, when I received a message about Making the Monster I was completely intrigued.  How closely did she follow the science at her time?

I admit I thought this was going to be a light, maybe even silly read.  I mean we are talking about building a monster out of corpses.  It wasn’t silly at all.  Harkup gives both a biography of Mary Shelley (very brief compared to Romantic Outlaws!); and a history of medicine and science at her time.  Fascinating and gross and still sometimes a bit dry.  I loved how the book followed along with each step of Victor’s creation and what was known, what Mary might have known – down to her relevant correspondence and lectures she could have attended.  This could have easily been a silly book, but instead Harkup gave Mary and her creation the respect they deserve.

Also, this was just a really great looking book.  The cover details were carried through the chapters with great detail.  Now I really really really have to sit down and read Frankenstein.  To my book club – get ready, this is going to be my next pick!

Thank you Bloomsbury Sigma for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion.