Book Corner 2021.47

It’s 1975, and 14-year-old Mary Jane takes a job for the summer babysitting 5-year-old Isabelle “Izzy” Cone. Mary Jane lives a happy, sheltered life controlled by her mother, who is a 1950s caricature of an orderly Stepford wife gone mad. Mary Jane likes to cook, clean, sing show tunes, and sing in church. But the Cones are a 1975 caricature of laid-back grooviness, and Izzy is a live wire. Mary Jane immediately takes to Izzy and providing some order and good home-cooked meals to her home. Meanwhile, the Cones, with the help of psychiatrist Dr. Cone’s rock- and TV-star resident patients, Jimmy & Sheba, return the favor by opening Mary Jane’s horizons to possibilities she never imagined, starting with objects strewn about the house and ending with free love and talk therapy and beyond.

Mary Jane is loveable and sympathetic. The other characters, however, are one-note; Izzy’s being a particularly shrill note. She is always shouting, being lovable, loving anything Mary Jane wants her to do. She never gets cranky or difficult.

Even so, I liked the story. I like how it showed that Mary Jane’s orderly well-trained background was a plus as well as a sometime hindrance to her; she both contributes and takes from her relationships with the others. As things come to a head with her parents at home, she realizes and tries to explain to her mother that much of what is so loveable about her, Mary Jane, why the others love and need her, are things that came directly from her upbringing; her mother should be proud. And eventually, she is. The father’s another story.

Blurbs on the cover draw apt comparisons to the movie ALMOST FAMOUS. There it’s a sheltered, controlled male who comes into the orbit of rock stars, whose Mom back home has to be made to realize that his growing up and apart is necessary, and that she can not “approve” but still be proud of who he is.

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