Zevin’s novel, Young Jane Young, centers around a political sex scandal that changes the lives of the women who take turns narrating the story. When twenty-year old congressional intern, Aviva Grossman, has an affair with her boss, she thinks the worst thing that can happen is that her heart will be broken. She is terribly wrong. Their affair is revealed — in excruciating detail, by multiple press outlets for months — and her life is completely ruined while the Congressman’s only mildly disrupted.
The book’s opening chapters are told from the point of view of Aviva’s mother, Rachel Shapiro, who is reflecting on the scandal more than a decade after it happens. Not only did the affair cost her daughter her name and reputation, but it contributed the end of Rachel’s career as well and hastened the end of Rachel’s marriage to Aviva’s father. Worst of all, the scandal drove Aviva away from her home and she has not spoken to her parents since she fled Florida in disgrace. Rachel outlines the nitty-gritty of the scandal and remains dazed that her family is still suffering aftershocks all these years later. The damage to her family seems especially outrageous considering the fact that the Congressman has gone on with great success, winning multiple terms in office and even remained married to his wife.
The next narrator up is Jane Young, a wedding planner in rural Maine and single mother to Ruby. Jane was been involved in the Aviva Grossman scandal and her subsequent fall from grace; she is haunted by the power the scandal seems to have even after almost a decade and finds it outrageous that Aviva suffers all of the consequences while the Congressman seems to have faced none. When she crosses a local man who is threatened by her ambition and his inability to bully her, she suddenly finds that connection between Jane Young and Aviva Grossman might come back to haunt her once again.
Our third narrator, 13-year old Ruby Young, tells her story through a series of emails to her pen pal. Ruby has been helping her mother Jane run for mayor of their small town and an internet search reveals that her mother is Aviva Grossman, that she became Jane Young after the scandal drove her away from Florida and into a life of hiding. Ruby is outraged by her mother’s dirty secret and swayed by the blatant slut-shaming she finds in the online stories. Ruby also begins to suspect that the Congressman is her father.
Next up, we hear from the wife of the Congressman, Embeth Levin, and about her life during the 13 years since the scandal. We learn of her thirty-year long marriage to a man she deeply loves and believes in, but a man who cheated on and humiliated her in front of the entire world. She has had to suppress her own ambitions to be his supportive spouse and has been forced to smile while he admits his affairs to the public. When Ruby Young arrives on her doorstep, she is forced to relive the entire scandal and is now left wondering if her husband is the young girl’s father. If so, it would be another scandal…one she is too exhausted to weather.
Finally, we hear from 20-year old Aviva Grossman about how she entered into the affair that would change her life and how she emerged from the wreckage of the scandal as Jane Young, a entirely new woman she if forced to create to avoid being shamed for her past mistakes.
With humor and honesty, Young Jane Young draws attention to the outrageous double standards that women face throughout their lives: the emphasis on their looks and youth; the disparagement they face for having ambitions; the judgement they face for their mistakes, especially sexual indiscretions; and the professional uphill battles they often endure.