That was a CLOSE one!
In a story where a 14 year old girl is introduced to sex, drugs, and rock and roll things could have gone quickly and irreparably off the rails- especially with blurbs on the jacket comparing Mary Jane to Daisy Jones and the Six and Almost Famous! Don’t get me wrong: I loved Almost Famous as a teen, but it does not treat it’s female characters with much kindness. I found Daisy Jones to be a worst-of Behind the Music pastiche: rock and roll excess will get you ALL! FOREVER! THERE’S NO ESCAPE! ThE mUsIc Is PuRe but everything else will GET YOU!
“but Cait! This is about Mary Jane!”
You are correct, kind and patient reader! The titular Mary Jane is a 14 year old girl in a ritzy neighborhood of Baltimore. It’s 1975, but in Mary Jane’s home it feels a lot more like 1955. Mary Jane is the only child of a serious Business Man (who knows what his job is? not me- nor Mary Jane!) and a traditional Homemaker. Mary Jane goes to school, does her chores, and helps her mother to prepare all meals in the house. Her greatest release comes from singing; Mary Jane loves music, and she shares that joy with her mother. They sing together in the church choir, and they subscribe to the Showtunes of the Month club- receiving a new cast recording every month and listening to it together in the Den when Father isn’t reading one of his many newspapers.
Mary Jane is content in her quiet little bubble, although she does wish that her mother enjoyed the Jesus Christ Superstar album, as that was the closest Mary Jane has ever come to…ROCK AND ROLL! Her mother, through other motherly connections in the neighborhood, lands Mary Jane a job as a summer nanny for a local doctor, his wife, and their five-year old. Mary Jane jumps at the opportunity- with a job, she can buy her own radio and listen to whatever she wants!
Believe it or n0t, but the family that Mary Jane works for his NOT what her mother expected: the doctor treats ADDICTS! the mother DOESN’T WEAR A BRA! the little girl RUNS THE HOUSE! Mary Jane dives headfirst into the seventies, and keeps many facts about the family secret in order to keep her mother from being scandalized. In keeping her mother in the dark, Mary Jane will be able to return day after day to this family that she loves and that loves her back. There’s one more big secret to keep, though: the doctor treats his patients in-house. Literally. This summer, he will treat the heroin addicted rock musician husband of a Cher-like singer, performer, and actress. The two of them will be living in the home, and Mary Jane will be keeping their identities secret on top of her other daily duties and secrets to keep!
No spoilers, I promise- but so many things could go wrong, and in so many terrible ways. Many things do fall apart, as that is how one learns in a Coming of Age story, but luckily all of the things that you are worried about happening thankfully remain as just worries. The sort of harm that typically befalls a young girl introduced to a world populated with charismatic older men does not take place here. Again- WHEW!
The entire novel is narrated Mary Jane, and I recommend listening to Caitlin Kinnunen’s audio recording. I am a little torn on who this novel is intended for; it worked well for me as an adult reader, but I think that it would be strangely helper for a teen reader, too. It connected with me a little more, perhaps, than another adult- as Mary Jane is the same age and in the same place as my MIL, so it was fun to imagine her adventures in 1975 Baltimore- but it may be too juvenile and on-the-nose for other adult readers. Although, my MIL’s Baltimore was FAR more John Waters than the Baltimore of Mary Jane! A teen may be entranced by the world of rock music, strange adults, and independence but turned off a bit by how much “I learned from my mother even though we are so different” is shoehorned in to almost every page.
Also: if you pick up the audio, then you actually get to hear a SONG “written” by the characters within! Not just a string of detached lyrics! What a dream!