The Babysitter Knows All

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By Allegra Goodman

By Jessica Anya Blau

It’s 1975, and Mary Jane Dillard is growing up in a perfectly neat house in Baltimore’s Roland Park neighborhood with a picture of President Ford hanging on the wall. Before dinner, her father says grace, giving thanks for “his wonderful wife and obedient child.” But the 14-year-old takes a summer job as a nanny for a different sort of family in Jessica Anya Blau’s delightful novel. Five-year-old Izzy shouts in ALL CAPS. Izzy’s mother, Mrs. Cone, doesn’t wear a bra, and her father, Dr. Cone, is a psychiatrist and a Jew — “another breed of human,” as Mary Jane’s father explains. When a rock star and his singer-actress wife come to stay for intensive addiction therapy, Mary Jane learns some new words and concepts. It’s a schematic setup — strait-laced suburbanites versus groovy artists — but this book works because it’s got a great protagonist.

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