Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

Synopsis (via Goodreads): "Almost Famous" meets Daisy Jones and the Six in this funny, wise, and tender novel about a fourteen-year-old girl’s coming of age in 1970s Baltimore, caught between her strait-laced family and the progressive family she nannies for—who happen to be secretly hiding a famous rock star and his movie star wife for the summer.

In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Show Tunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.

The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, IMPEACHMENT: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): The doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job—helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.

Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be.

"The car smelled like pizza. Or was it vagina?"
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes I use are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product.

First of all, the synopsis LIED. This book wasn't anything like Daisy Jones & the Six (which I loved). I haven't seen Almost Famous, so I can't really comment on that, but gahhh was I disappointed by this one. Also, the "progressive" family she nannied for was just as bad as her own racist, overly religious, "traditional" family. Their chaos was a stark contrast to her mother's unblemished home and lifestyle, but it wasn't better. She also had no idea what she wanted out of life by the end of the book (more blurb lies). She's only fourteen, ffs. Did she gain a new perspective on life? Sure. Does she still have A LOT to learn? Yes. She's lived by her parents' rules and expectations her entire life, so obviously something new and different would shake up her worldviews. 

Okay, so where do I even start? Should I start by pointing out how many times the word penis was used throughout this book (8 times on one page, 7 times on the following page)? I'm not against the word or upset that it was used, but did it really need to be said 15 times in two pages? What about all of the racist commentary that goes largely unaddressed? People love to talk about Jews until Jesus gets brought up (which is a topic I really wish the author had talked about more). I'm also not against nudity, but adults should not undress in front of children - especially those there to babysit. You barely know this child, but you're comfortable walking through the house naked or in your underwear? Izzy was five, and Mary Jane was only fourteen. It's fine for Izzy to know what a penis is and what it's used for, but she shouldn't have seen "lots" at her age, and definitely not her father's on a somewhat frequent basis. I know I didn't grow up in the 70's, but please don't tell me this was normal or even remotely acceptable behavior. I know that kids sometimes see their parents naked and that that is normal, but Izzy's parents also exposed themselves around MJ. She was not their child and shouldn't have been subjected to their nudity.

I really didn't like the negative light the author chose to shed on Mary Jane's parents. Yes, there were definitely issues that needed to be addressed, but they weren't abusive or neglectful people (which is also subjective). They cared about their daughter and raised her the only way they knew how. (A father who worked all day and expected his wife to take care of the home. MJ's mom even scooped food onto her husband's plate after he surveyed everything to make sure it was to his liking.) I'm not saying they were perfect, or that they were people you would want to model your parenting style after, but they weren't evil. Racist, yes. Thought they were better than others? Absolutely. Loved their daughter? I think so. Izzy's parents weren't better because they were different. They accepted everyone and didn't have the same self-imposed restrictions, but they weren't great parents. They left their five-year-old daughter alone with a fourteen-year-old every day, and didn't stop her when she started cleaning and organizing their filthy house. She was there to babysit, not to be their housekeeper and cook. Eventually, MJ was cooking all three meals throughout the day, going to the grocery store, taking care of Izzy (getting her dressed, making sure she took a bath, brushing her teeth, putting her to bed, reading her a story, etc.), washing, folding, and ironing their clothes. She also did the dishes, cleaned Izzy's room, organized and alphabetized bookshelves, records, and whatever else she found throughout the house.

The Cone's put a lot of responsibility on MJ, and even though they didn't specifically ask her to do everything, they never told her to stop either. They all needed to grow the hell up and stop letting children take care of everything for them. Don't even get me started on the state of the refrigerator before Mary Jane took over. Things were rotting and mold was everywhere, the smells were atrocious, and they let two kids clean everything out and toss the gross stuff in the garbage. That has to be a health hazard in addition to neglectful parenting (there was a lot of this, so). MJ frequently made a comment about Izzy not being bathed over the weekend while she wasn't there. What parent simply forgets to clean and take care of their child? The way Izzy would smell is something Mary Jane would often comment on, and then she would take it upon herself to get Izzy cleaned up. This should not have been solely her responsibility. 

I'm also all for normalizing topics and words when speaking to children, but there are just some things you do not expose them to at a young age. Like describing all the dicks you've had and what they looked like in great detail. Honestly, Jimmy says something at one point that even I didn't understand, and I'm 31. The adults frequently put Izzy and MJ in unsafe situations, and I can't believe everyone was just okay with it. Breaking, smashing, and screaming - then leaving the mess for two kids to clean up the next morning? FFS. Leaving a five-year-old in a house alone just because she's asleep, and then assuming she'll follow the direction you went outside if she wakes up? NO! She could have walked out and gotten lost, or someone else could have come in. 

Mary Jane was a book about unhealthy behaviors and what a child is willing to do for love and acceptance. She enjoyed feeling seen. However, it's crazy to me that a fourteen-year-old would notice so many things that FOUR adults did not (one of them is a freaking psychiatrist). In the end MJ's mother was proud, but we get zero explanation for it. She's proud her daughter knew how to cook and clean for an entire family plus two guests? Oh, and take care of a child like it was her own? She goes from being banished to her room, to quietly celebrated by her mother. WHY? Where was that character development? I do think Mary Jane's mother loved her in her own way, and I think the Cone's loved her (but still definitely took advantage of her). I just don't think either household was healthy and whole. 

The believability of the story was also a disappointment, because only about half of it was realistic. I don't even want to talk about the ending, or why two super famous people were so enamored by a fourteen-year-old girl that was more servant than honorary family member (which is what they claimed). There were some fun aspects to the book, but too many other parts soured the story for me. Also, don't presume you know more about a kid than their parents just because you live a different lifestyle. Despite feeling frustrated by this book, I will end my review on a positive note. I liked Mary Jane and enjoyed her voice throughout the story. She felt authentic even if her experiences were not. (★★⋆☆☆)


  1. I was thoroughly disappointed with this book, too. ๐Ÿ˜›

    Watch Almost Famous. It is very authentic! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

    1. I feel like everyone else really loved it, but we can be black sheep together. ;)

      Oh, I will! Thanks!

  2. "The car smelled like pizza. Or was it vagina?"
    That ruined pizza for me ๐Ÿคข. LOL. I mean...seriously?

    So the '70s were a liberal age and whatnot...but I can't believe all the stuff you listed either. This one sounds like an utter mess.

    1. It's because one of the adults said something about "sniffing his fingers" in the morning to determine whether or not he'd been with a woman the night before. She didn't know what that meant, which led to a conversation about vaginas. When she got in the car afterwards THAT was her thought. How could she have confused the two??? Like, c'mon. It smelled like PIZZA because they had just picked up PIZZA. She just had vagina on the brain. ๐Ÿ™„

  3. How strange! I am thinking that Mary Jane could have found a much better babysitting situation. This sounds a little weird.

    1. I kept thinking it was weird her parents let her babysit for someone they didn't know and had never met.

  4. Bummer that this wasn't a great read. I love your book photo though! :)

    1. Thank you! It's one of my favorite photos. :)


Click the "Notify me" box if you want to be notified when someone responds!

“Stuff and nonsense. Nonsense and stuff and much of a muchness and nonsense all over again. We are all mad here, don't you know?”
― Marissa Meyer, Heartless