Cover Image: Mary Jane

Mary Jane

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Is it possible to come of age in a mere summer?  For fourteen-year-old Mary Jane, the answer is a resounding yes.

The year is 1970, the place is Baltimore.  

Mary Jane Dillard is a teenager whose life is filled with singing in her church choir, cooking with her mom every day, and listening to show tunes.  Outspoken and worldly, she is not.  When asked to be a nanny for another family for the summer, her parents agree.  After all, the home is respectable, what could go wrong?  

The Cones however are nothing like the Dillards nor do they fit into any box. Love is strewn about freely, something Mary Jane has never seen as she has never been told nor said I love you to anyone.  When Dr. Cone, who is a Psychiatrist, takes on a special client and his wife for the summer, Mary Jane’s life becomes even more interesting.  Together, this makeshift family bonds together, with Mary Jane becoming the central character. 

It is through this experience that Mary Jane stands up for herself and learns who she wants to be.  Mary Jane is a gem: strong, smart, and oh so sweet.  From the start, I was immediately swept up in her story.  Mary Jane’s relationship with Izzy Cone stole my heart as did her relationship with the entire Cone family who treated her like a daughter.  That said, not every relationship in this novel is picture-perfect, which may be a testament to the time frame during which the novel took place or simply in the way the characters are written.  All in all, however, “Mary Jane” is an absorbing, fantastical read which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Thank you to NetGalley, William Morrow, and Custom House, and Jessica Anya Blau for the arc.

Published on NetGalley and Goodreads.

Review also published to Blog:  https://books-are-a-girls-best-friend.com/
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This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021 as it was marketed as Daisy Jones and the Six meets Almost Famous.  This book does not have anything to do with either of those two things aside from the time period.  I was under the impression that it would have a heavy music focus, and although there is a musician in the novel and a short scene at the end in a record store (those being the BIGGEST incidences), I would not say that it does not encompass the novel in any way, shape or form, other than playing a few records.  This is a marketing error in my opinion.  However, there were plenty of positives to pull from this novel.  It was a nice coming-of-age story (which you could relate to Almost Famous – but many others as well), where Mary Jane grows up and sees that the world view she has been pigeon-holed in her entire life is not the best one, the limitation, or the experiences of others.  That it is okay to not believe what your parents believe and having those difficult conversations to express yourself is tough, but sometimes necessary.  The culture of the 70s was accurately described, but also painful, and still relevant today, with themes of racism and judgment of other populations spread throughout the novel.  

Rounded up to 3.5 Stars. The message of the novel was presented well, but the synopsis was definitely a misdirection.
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When Mary Jane takes a summer nannying job with the Cones, she is exposed to a different way of living. Their liberal and free ways couldn’t be any different than her country club, Presbyterian church attending household.   

When I saw this took place in Baltimore in the 70’s I knew I had to read it! I immediately thought of Hairspray, although that was the sixties. This book was such a pleasure to read. Recognizing all the Baltimore neighborhoods, in a different era, was fun. Mary Jane is quite mature in many ways, but very naive in others. It was great watching her grow and learn from meeting a family so unlike her own, and broadening her experiences. I think this time era can be noted for the massive discrepancy in values between the young adults and their parents; growing up in the fifties and seventies were so different. While Mary Jane’s parents made me shake with frustration and rage, I still enjoyed reading about them and how some parents were in these days. I loved that this book had a lot of heart and Mary Jane learned and grow without any major trauma or tragedy. 

“We’d learned about the Holocaust in school, just like we’d learned about the civil rights movement. What we’d never learned was that sometimes the people who kept those ideas live were the people you lived with.”

“My mother entered my head. Not in Roland Park, she often said, as if all the ills of the world were contained in a cloud that just refused to hover over this little nook of Northern Baltimore. But there I was, in Roland Park, and a big, heavy, shattered glass storm had landed.”

Mary Jane comes out 5/11
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Mary Jane tells the story of 14-year-old Mary Jane, a quiet girl from a quiet neighborhood, who takes a summer babysitting job with a family who is much different than her own. I loved this coming-of-age story set in 1970s Baltimore.

This is being marketed as Almost Famous meets Daisy Jones and the Six, but I think a more accurate description is a Almost Famous meets a Judy Blume novel.  Because it takes place in 1975 and features a celebrity musicians, Mary Jane shares some similar vibes with Daisy Jones.  However, the theme and overall tone of the book is unlike Daisy Jones and the Six.  

Mary Jane is about a fairly sheltered girl who typically spends her summers drinking iced tea with her parents at their country club.  This summer, she is nannying for the mysterious Cone family, who have two celebrity musicians staying with them for the summer.  At her job, Mary Jane becomes privy to all kinds of things she has never experienced: from eating takeout for dinner every night to open discussions about drug addiction.

Blau paints a nuanced portrait of a not-too-rebellious teenager wishing to push the envelope (just a bit).  I especially appreciated that Blau did not paint Mary Jane’s relationship with her parents in a negative light.  Mary Jane wishes for some room to grow, but she does not venture into completely disrespecting her parent’s views and fully recognizes fortunate childhood she has been given.

Read if you:
- are interested in the 1970s
- like coming-of-age stories
- were a ~slightly~ rebellious teen
- like stories that feature music prominently

My rating: 4 stars

Thank you to William Morrow and Custom House Books and NetGalley for this ARC! I will be posting this review to my blog on the publication date.
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Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau was a fun romp with colorful characters showcasing the personal growth of a young woman in her search for identity. For me, this novel did not achieve the anarchy or character revelations expected from the setup but I found this novel engaging and thought-provoking nonetheless. How do we define ourselves? How does our perspective shift regarding our upbringing? And how do we calibrate and redefine our own path? A very engaging read and one I would recommend.
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🌟🌟🌟🌟 I love a novel with a good soundtrack. You could just hear the 70s rock, funk, folk, gospel and blues as you read. Chapter 11 has all the recommends, so I threw together a spotify playlist for those of you who like music while you read.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7IuQd5vantPXW2g0zJy0JP?si=ymwzGQbaQBS_yp0bdjBL_Q 

I had fun reading this novel. Mary Jane is a coming of age story set in 1970s Baltimore. What makes it unique is Mary Jane's opportunity to rebel isn't a rebellion into lawlessness.  She finds a balance to what she has been taught by her conservative mother vs what she has learned from a more contemporary, free spirited family. Thank you @netgalley @williammorrowbooks @customhousebooks for the free ARC in exchange for my honest review. 

#MaryJane #NetGalley #bookrecommendations #bookblogging #booklover #bookreview #bibliophile #bookaddict #bookstagram #booktherapy #bookjournal
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I did not think I would like reading this book - it is an adult book from a teenagers perspective. But the characters were interesting and likable. I would read from this author again.
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Thank you so much for the opportunity to read this book. I'll be posting my review on Goodreads and Amazon
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This was my favorite book I read in 2020. I believe I had a grin on my face during the whole book. I’ve told so many people that it’s a must read! 

Mary Jane takes a babysitting job for the Cone family’s daughter Izzy, for the summer. The Cone’s are new to the Baltimore suburb. Mary Jane’s parents are very regimented in all they do. They provide almost everything a child needs - food, shelter and clothing.  But the thing missing is a connection with her parents. Once she starts her job, she sees how other families have fun and loving connections. She bring the structure to the Cone house that is lacking and in turn the Cone’s take Mary Jane on a twisting, turning, exciting summer of 1975.
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It’s summer in 1970s Baltimore, and fourteen year old Mary Jane snags a job nannying for a local doctor’s daughter, Izzy. Mary Jane’s straight-laced Christian parents are thrilled. This is a good job - a respectable job. 

Mary Jane is shocked when the doctor’s wife greets her on her first day in a nearly see-through top, Izzy, her five-year-old charge, is in nothing but a diaper, and the house is a gigantic mess. What’s more, Mary Jane learns that the doctor isn’t a medical doctor (as her parents presumed), but in fact, a psychiatrist who is helping a rock star dry out. What’s more - this rockstar and his wife are coming to live with them for the summer next week. 

It’s safe to say that this summer is going to be slightly different than the one that her parents had in mind, and Mary Jane is here for it. 

Mary Jane is an exquisite love letter to found family, love, music, and that one sum er when you discover that your parents aren’t always right. It pulled at my heart and I cannot recommend it enough. Read this book - preferably in your teenage bedroom blasting a record that sets you free.

Pairing Recommendation: 
🍽: Oven-baked macaroni and cheese
🍸: Lemonade
🎶:  Sparks - The Who
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I couldn't get enough of this book. I thought it was a great coming of age story. Mary Jane's life changes when she starts nannying for a family in her neighborhood. Coming from a strict Christian Stepfordy household in 1970's Baltimore, this new family is completely different from her own. I enjoyed her reactions to things and the stark difference between her home life and theirs. The characters we all unique and exciting. Thank you, NetGalley!
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Great nostalgic book that defines a time period long gone.  The characters and plot were captivating.  I extremely enjoyed reading this book and I highly recommend it
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I've been dying to read Mary Jane so when NetGalley and pubs approved I said YES! This book was so full of life. I turned late after page reading this a d didn't want it to end. Mary Jane's character was.so real. It seriously felt like I was stepping back in time. 
The writing wow Jessica Blau really did an awesome job writing this one.
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A coming of age story set in the 70's.  
Mary Jane has strict Christian parents and is looking to find her path in life. To help find her path she becomes a nanny for a couple where the husband is a psychiatrist.  A rock star trying to get clean and his wife also move in with the couple and Mary Jane.
I really can't say I liked any of the characters. There wasn't much development in any of them.
This book has been compared to another book that I couldn't put down that also took place in the 70's. It fell short for me.
Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me this book in exchange for an honest opinion.
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This novel and I seem to have crossed wires somehow, because I am almost certain the author intends for me to love the young protagonist, Mary Jane, and the four people she gets mixed up with when she comes of age in the 70's in Baltimore. There are a few period details but I didn't get an immersive sense of place and time.

The four who sweep Mary Jane into their family circle are the Cones, ineffectual psychologist Richard and his weird wife Bonnie (for whose little girl, Izzy, Mary Jane becomes the nanny), and an addict rock star Jimmy and his wife Sheba, who come to live with the Cones so that Jimmy can get therapy from Richard. 

Rejecting all four of these adults as remotely likeable, I certainly am not supposed to like Mary Jane's racist, hard-ass, Christian (*gasp*) parents, and yet Mary Jane's mother is the only person throughout the book who says anything remotely true or sensical. 

The novel makes clear that both Izzy and Mary Jane are being mistreated. What is the reader supposed to do with this information? Perhaps the message is that if your parents are Ozzie and Harriet, any old worldly experiences from any old worldly people will expand your horizons, even if they have zero character and are blatantly taking advantage of you.

Mary Jane is the only functioning adult in the house where she is the nanny, and this is supposed to be a wonderful growth opportunity for her? Maybe I grew up too sheltered myself, but I don't see it. Mary Jane's mother has taught her a number of practical life skills which are admired by her "new family" including cooking, cleaning, and keeping a small child out of danger. Some of Jimmy's dealings with Mary Jane are creepy bordering on grooming/abuse, the adults all disclose far too much information to a teenaged girl, and Richard is not her psychologist and so for him to have "group therapy" with her is blatantly unethical and also, given the subject matter, also creepy.

There is considerable dark foreshadowing that is going to happen to Mary Jane, Izzy, or both, but when the Bad Thing Happens it is a big nothingburger. Izzy is afraid of a "witch," for one thing. I was sure this was going to turn out to be Izzy's mother. Mary Jane does get to sing around the house with the rock star and his wife, so there is some music in the book, which is a redeeming quality. 

The author could have pulled the novel together at the end with some exposition by young Mary Jane determining what she will accept and reject going forward. This would have given me one character, the protagonist, to admire in some way. She might say, for example, "I want to get married and have one child but I do not want a husband like Jimmy and I will not be a mother like Bonnie. I will be a mother very much like my own mother but not a racist." Mary Jane herself could have declared that all of the adults around her are severely lacking and that she wants to be different from all of them in specific ways. 

Mary Jane believes at the end that her horizons have been expanded and that she has more of a sense of self, but the author does not put any meat on those bones.

I've seen buzz comparing "Mary Jane" to the film "Almost Famous," in which William Miller bridges two worlds between home (with an uptight mother) and the world of rock-and-roll. Had William done the groupies' laundry plus cheerily signed up for every other kind of grunt work available without ever objecting once, and had Mary Jane been embarking on an actual career path, there might be some valid comparison between the two plots.
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