Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Book Review: "Mrs. Everything" by Jennifer Weiner

Josette (Jo) and Elisabeth (Bethie) Kaufman were sisters who came of age in 1950s Detroit. Jo is a tomboy, more comfortable in old clothes and running around playing sports, while young Bethie was content with being the pretty, talented one, the center of attention. Not much changed as the two approached their teenage years, much to their mother's chagrin. Jo became more outspoken in trying to understand civil rights and social justice, while Bethie starts understanding that her beauty gives her an interesting form of power.

But a family tragedy leads to a traumatic incident for one sister and self-discovery for the other, and both impact their lives and their relationships. As time moves on, Bethie becomes a free spirit, traveling the world, never putting roots down in one place, immersing herself in the counterculture and embracing the idea that women should have whatever they want. Jo, on the other hand, becomes a traditional housewife in Connecticut, raising two daughters and wondering how she wound up living the life she is. Both are content in their own ways but aren't truly happy, but at the same time, aren't sure they are willing to shake things up enough to make change happen.

Mrs. Everything follows Jo and Bethie to the present day, chronicling the journey of these two women as they struggle for happiness, love, and fulfillment, even when they believe they can't have all three simultaneously. They have triumphs and deal with tragedies, they turn toward each other and turn away, and try to be true to themselves and who they are. It's a novel that has an almost epic feel to it.

"'We lose ourselves,' she repeated, forming each word with care, 'but we find our way back.' Wasn't that the story of her life? Wasn't that the story of Bethie's? You make the wrong choices, you make mistakes, you disappear for a decade, you marry the wrong man. You get hurt. You lose sight of who you are, or of who you want to be, and then you remember, and if you're lucky you have sisters or friends who remind you when you forget your best intentions. You come back to yourself, again and again. You try, and fail, and try again, and fail again."

I've never read anything that Jennifer Weiner has written, so when I was offered the opportunity to read Mrs. Everything I jumped at it. Weiner says in a note that appears at the start of my advance copy that she was inspired by Michael Cunningham's A Home at the End of the World and Susan Isaacs' Almost Paradise (two books I loved) to write a book that followed its main characters all the way through their lives. She also said she wanted to write about a character like her mother, whose life moved in unexpected and unbelievable ways.

The arcs that Weiner's characters' lives follow are very believable. These are women whose stories have been told so many times yet they need to be told many times more. This is a fascinating exploration of the roles women play within their families, within their marriages and relationships, and within society. There isn't necessarily anything surprising in this book but that doesn't matter; it's still a powerful book with strong messages.

I really enjoyed the way Weiner writes and felt completely immersed in the story. I felt like things dragged a bit at times, but real life isn't always exciting either. I do read a fair amount of so-called "women's fiction," but this is one book that I'd imagine will resonate more with women than it did with me, although I still felt moved by it.

NetGalley and Atria Books provided me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

This book will be published June 11, 2019.

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