About the Book:
“Almost Famous” meets Daisy Jones and the Six in this funny, wise, and tender novel about a fourteen-year-old girl’s coming of age in 1970s Baltimore, caught between her strait-laced family and the progressive family she nannies for—who happen to be secretly hiding a famous rock star and his movie star wife for the summer.
In 1970s Baltimore, fourteen-year-old Mary Jane loves cooking with her mother, singing in her church choir, and enjoying her family’s subscription to the Broadway Show Tunes of the Month record club. Shy, quiet, and bookish, she’s glad when she lands a summer job as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. A respectable job, Mary Jane’s mother says. In a respectable house.
The house may look respectable on the outside, but inside it’s a literal and figurative mess: clutter on every surface, IMPEACHMENT: Now More Than Ever bumper stickers on the doors, cereal and takeout for dinner. And even more troublesome (were Mary Jane’s mother to know, which she does not): The doctor is a psychiatrist who has cleared his summer for one important job—helping a famous rock star dry out. A week after Mary Jane starts, the rock star and his movie star wife move in.
Over the course of the summer, Mary Jane introduces her new household to crisply ironed clothes and a family dinner schedule, and has a front-row seat to a liberal world of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll (not to mention group therapy). Caught between the lifestyle she’s always known and the future she’s only just realized is possible, Mary Jane will arrive at September with a new idea about what she wants out of life, and what kind of person she’s going to be.
Completely charming! The cover totally caught my eye, and I loved the description of being “Almost Famous meets Daisy Jones and the Six”, a fantastic movie and a fantastic book! Although this is really not exactly like either one, I fell in love with this captivating story of a teenager over one fateful summer in 1970’s Baltimore.
Mary Jane’s parents are not only right out of the 1950’s, they are rigid bordering on outright anti-Semitic and racist. Her father plays golf at their whites-only country club and Mrs. Dillard believes one of a wife’s highest callings is to prepare the family meals and create the menus. They are neat, orderly and expect Mary Jane to follow their rules. Imagine Mary Jane’s shock when she gets a job as a summer nanny for the Cone family, who are messy, loud and actually show public signs of affection.
Dr. Cone is a psychiatrist who is treating a patient in a very unorthodox way. Jimmy is a famous musician and an addict. His wife Sheba is also a star and they move in with the Cone family for the duration of Jimmy’s treatment. Dr. Cone feels it is the best way to remove Jimmy from the pressures of the public eye.
Mary Jane is given free reign over the Cones’ young daughter Izzy as well as cooking for the family and tidying up the house. Mary Jane revels in her new responsibilities, and begins to assert herself in other ways as well.
“In my own house, each day was a perfectly contained lineup of hours where nothing unusual or unsettling was ever said. In the Cone family, there was no such thing as containment. Feelings were splattered around the household with the intensity of a spraying fire hose. I was terrified of what I might witness or hear tonight. But along with that terror, my fondness for the Cones only grew. To feel something was to feel alive. And to feel alive was starting to feel like love.”
This is a charming, funny, warm and thoughtful story and the narrator Caitlin Kinnunen is a joy. She is a theatre actress and I can’t imagine anyone else more perfect for the voice of Mary Jane. If you are an audiobook fan, you also get an extra treat at the end of the book which was amazing!
As Mary Jane begins to realize her parents are not always right and in fact, are prejudiced and closed minded, tensions build. The author avoids heavy-handed drama and instead makes a quiet commentary on family relationships and the rapidly changing American of the 1970’s. Mrs. Dillard did have redeeming qualities and Mary Jane does love her mother. I loved their scenes together.
“I thought of our Christmas photos. I’d always thought that waxy strangers-in-an-elevator look was just because no one in my family was comfortable in front of a camera. But now I wondered if it was because no one in my family was comfortable with any other person in my family.”
This is a warm and bittersweet novel that really captured 1975. I remember well the music and events referenced in the book. The audiobook was really enjoyable and I highly recommend this one!