cover image Mary Jane

Mary Jane

Jessica Anya Blau. Custom House, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-305229-1

Blau (The Summer of Naked Swim Parties) returns with a sweet if simplistic coming-of-age story about a teenage girl’s influential encounter with a rock star couple in 1975 Baltimore. Mary Jane Dillard, 14, the responsible daughter of country-clubbing, conservative Betsy and Gerald, takes a job as a nanny for her parents’ free-spirited acquaintances, the Cones: Richard, a psychiatrist; and Bonnie, his bohemian wife. The Cones need Mary Jane’s help with their five-year-old daughter while hosting celebrity couple Jimmy and Sheba as part of Jimmy’s group therapy treatment for his alcohol and drug addiction. Jimmy sings in a popular band, and Sheba stars in a variety show. Soon Mary Jane uses her choir voice to sing in harmony with Jimmy and Sheba, and as she witnesses both couples’ emotional outbursts and unadulterated shows of affection, she gains a deeper understanding of the potential of human relationships and of her own musical talent. Mary Jane’s narration can be cloying (“I wondered if the addict would look like the addicts I’d seen downtown from the window of the car,” Mary Jane thinks, anticipating Jimmy’s arrival), and the narrative arc, though shaped by Mary Jane’s eye-opening exposure to the realities of adulthood, is not particularly sophisticated. Still, this might please readers looking to indulge their ’70s nostalgia. (May)