It’s the mid-1970s in Baltimore, and Mary Jane, age 14, brings her groovy babysitting skills to her first summer nanny job taking care of five-year-old Izzy. And jeepers, does the Cone family ever need her help. Mary Jane’s own mother has imparted all of her cooking and housekeeping skills (the ones that got her through the 50s and 60s so well) to her only daughter, so Mary Jane can cook and clean and basically impose loving order on a house that’s not really being run at all. Which is exactly what she does all summer.
This novel, Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau, is one terrific portrait of the orderliness of conservative midcentury home life crashing straight into the liberating new perspectives opening up during the 1970s. Mary Jane is intrigued by the new outlook embraced by the Cones and their zany houseguests, and embraces much of their thinking as enthusiastically as she tries to hide the reality of the Cones’ lifestyle from her parents and her neighbors.
The music! I have to mention the music! There are 70s tunes galore in this novel, adding notes of color and pops of sound to the story.
This is a delightful and heartwarming coming-of-age story that will remind us Gen-X readers of devouring Judy Blume books back when we were in middle and high school. Mary Jane’s voice and perspective are pitch-perfect. The ending is surprisingly touching and infinitely satisfying.
Other books set in the 1970s include:
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis
Clover Blue by Eldonna Edwards
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender