Mary Jane is a delightful coming-of-age story about a fourteen-year-old girl from a rigid and sheltered home who enters a completely different world when she gets a summer job as a nanny for a neighboring couple, the Cones, who are as lax as her parents are uptight. Worse, Dr. Cone is actually a psychiatrist, and to make it even worse, a famous rock star and his famous actress wife are staying there while he gets treatment for his heroin addiction.
Mary Jane is obviously entranced by this family and their famous guests and loves her charge, the precocious and adorable Izzy. Her experience challenges her in many ways since the Cones are the opposite of her own family. Mrs. Cone does not cook while Mary Jane is an excellent cook thanks to helping her mother cook. The house is as messy as her own house is neat. While ostensibly a nanny, Mary Jane because the chief cook and bottle washer, getting Izzy to help her as she helped her mother. She even lies to her mother so she can cook the evening meal for the Cones.
The more she learns about the Cones, the more she reconsiders her own family. Yes, they have order, cleanliness, and daily meals planned out in advance, but the Cones have none of that and seem happier in their disorder than her family is with all its structure. However, as the summer progresses, the secrets she is keeping start to fall apart.
I liked Mary Jane a lot, though I believe it may be a polarizing book. The author, Jessica Anya Blau, clearly prefers the loving, but dysfunctional Cone family to Mary Jane’s well-ordered, but emotionally distant family. A fourteen-year-old girl bringing order to chaos does not speak well of the adults, but readers cannot help but admire Dr. Cone and love the rest of the Cone household.
Meanwhile, Mary Jane learns some ugly truths about her own family when she realizes they are racist. She thinks, “”We’d learned about the Holocaust in school. Just like we learned about the civil rights movement. What we’d never learned was that sometimes the people who kept those ideas alive were the people you lived with.” I thought this was a profound recognition of how these noxious beliefs continue. I also thought they seemed searingly relevant to today when so many of us are seeing our own family and friends perpetuate racist ideas while blithely assuming they haven’t a racist bone in their bodies.
I loved the book. I devoured it. I am sure many will object to a fourteen-year-old being exposed to adult problems, drugs, nudity, and sexuality. I think, though, that the Cone household was loving and I can’t think of a better example of loving-kindness than Dr. Cone responding to Mary Jane’s confession that she is a sex addict. I just loved this book.
Mary Jane will be published on May 11th. I received an ARC from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.