Gabrielle Zevin’s newest novel is about a congressional intern seeking a fresh start after having an affair with her politician boss. Told through the perspective of multiple characters, Young Jane Young (Algonquin Books (Workman), August, 2017) explores the difficulty of starting over in the digital age and highlights the double standards for women, especially in politics. Baker & Taylor spoke with Zevin.
What inspired the storyline?
I had seen an episode of Frontline a few years back about the fi rst generation of kids to grow up with the internet in their homes and how different coming of age was for them. When they went to college, they took Facebook with them, they took their cell phone numbers with them, and life had a continuity for them that it didn’t have for someone a generation older. I mean, when I went to college, I remember thinking, Thanks for the yearbook signature! Now let’s promise to never see each other again! The way people today — people of all ages — can never escape or outrun their pasts, because their internet presences follow them everywhere they go. It used to be when you made a mistake, you could move on, move to a new town, start all over again. Now, this is less of an option. So, I think one of the main questions of the book is how do you move forward in your life, when your past is always one click away?
How did you develop Aviva?
My inspiration for the main character came from many places, but something that happened was that I saw a current picture of Monica Lewinksy. And it struck me how she still looked so young today, and if that was true, how very, very, obscenely young she must have been when she had her affair with President Clinton. I’m a handful of years younger than her and when the scandal happened, I remember being very judgmental of her. I would never do that, I thought. And now, cut to 2017, I’m closer to President Clinton’s age at the time of the scandal, and what I think is, I would never do that. I would never treat a young intern that way.
Why tell the story using different voices?
Each voice represents a woman at a different age, at a different time in her life. I wanted to write about something I have experienced, which is how different a story can feel depending on the age of the person telling it. I particularly wanted to write about feminism, and how the idea of yourself as a feminist can evolve as you get older.
Why include a “choose your path” chapter?
We don’t get Aviva’s point of view until the end of the novel. She is much discussed, but never heard from. I liked the simplicity of the way Choose Your Own Adventure stories are written — they put you directly into the point-of-view of the character. Effectually, a Choose Your Own Adventure story is an empathy machine. I wanted to give the reader a real understanding of what it is to be young, inexperienced, and enthralled by someone more powerful than you. And then, as the story goes on, I wanted the reader to have a sense of the real courage and chutzpah it takes to reinvent your life.