Books

Feminist novel? Absolutely, says Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin’s newest novel, “Young Jane Young,” is a well-crafted rebuttal to slut-shaming.
Gabrielle Zevin’s newest novel, “Young Jane Young,” is a well-crafted rebuttal to slut-shaming. Courtesy photo

Gabrielle Zevin remembers Monica Lewinsky.

“I’m a couple years younger than Monica Lewinsky, and I remember seeing pictures of her when that scandal happened and feeling very judgmental of her,” Zevin said, referring to the White House affair that prompted impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton.

“Now I’m only about 10 years younger than Clinton was at the time of the scandal … and I feel very judgmental of him, having had 20 years of experience in the intervening time.”

Zevin’s new book, “Young Jane Young,” is a feminist political novel and a well-crafted rebuttal to slut-shaming, told from the point of view of four female characters at various stages of their lives.

Zevin will visit Wichita on Friday for a talk and book signing hosted by Watermark Books and Cafe.

In “Young Jane Young,” Aviva Grossman, an ambitious congressional intern from southern Florida, has an affair with her older, married boss. When the affair comes to light and Aviva becomes a late-night talk show joke, she is forced to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine, where she tries to raise her daughter, Ruby, to be strong and confident.

gabrielle
Gabrielle Zevin

Zevin says the novel wasn’t inspired directly by the Lewinsky scandal, although her research included Lewinsky’s 2015 Ted Talk, “The Price of Shame,” as well as Jon Ronson’s book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.”

Her real inspiration was the 2016 presidential election, during which she watched scores of women – particularly millennials – reject Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

“It isn’t so crazy that we didn’t end up with a female president, when you think how unaccustomed we are to voting for women or even voting as women,” Zevin said.

“I wanted to write a book that talked about that disparity – why we don’t see young women going into politics in the same numbers and successfully achieving high office. … I kind of always write the book that I think is the most important thing I could be telling a reader at the time.”

Zevin’s previous novel, “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” was a love letter to independent bookstores, written at a time when Zevin and other book lovers feared that online retailers might undercut such stores into extinction.

This new novel – equally charming, poignant and laugh-out-loud funny – also packs a political punch. And yes, Zevin says, you can call it feminist.

“To me, ‘feminist’ isn’t a weighted term. I know it is to other people,” she said. “I’m honored if people think of it as a feminist novel.”

“The older I get, the more important I think it is to be a feminist,” she said. “I think when you’re young maybe you have an illusion about your own exceptionalism. But then the older you get, the more you realize that there are all these walls everywhere that are difficult to climb over.”

The new novel also is an homage to Zevin’s hometown of Boca Raton, Fla., and the community of Jewish mothers she remembers from childhood. Zevin’s own mother is Korean, and her father is Jewish.

“It’s definitely a book about mothers and daughters as well,” she said.

“This mother tries so hard to prevent her daughter from having this affair, but she essentially exacerbates everything, makes everything worse. … And I think about that a lot – the things we do for love.”

Zevin was 26 when she published her first novel, “Margarettown.” Now nearly 40, she says it’s not surprising that “Young Jane Young” deals with perspective and the benefits of hindsight.

“This is not a book I could have written then,” she said.

“Just thinking about Monica Lewinsky and how I feel differently about her as a middle-aged woman – I think that’s what the novel is about in many ways,” she said. “This idea that stories change based on the age of the people telling them.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

Gabrielle Zevin in Wichita

Watermark Books & Cafe, 4701 E. Douglas, will host author Gabrielle Zevin for a reading and signing of her newest book, “Young Jane Young.” The event, 6 p.m. Friday, is free. For more information, call Watermark at 316-682-1181 or visit www.watermarkbooks.com/event/gabrielle-zevin-0.

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