Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Review: The Opposite of Everyone

Summary: A fiercely independent divorce lawyer learns the power of family and connection when she receives a cryptic message from her estranged mother in this bittersweet, witty novel from the nationally bestselling author of Someone Else’s Love Story and gods in Alabama—an emotionally resonant tale about the endurance of love and the power of stories to shape and transform our lives. 

Born in Alabama, Paula Vauss spent the first decade of her life on the road with her free-spirited young mother, Kai, an itinerant storyteller who blended Hindu mythology with southern oral tradition to re-invent their history as they roved. But everything, including Paula’s birth name Kali Jai, changed when she told a story of her own—one that landed Kai in prison and Paula in foster care. Separated, each holding secrets of her own, the intense bond they once shared was fractured.

These days, Paula has reincarnated herself as a tough-as-nails divorce attorney with a successful practice in Atlanta. While she hasn’t seen Kai in fifteen years, she’s still making payments on that Karmic debt—until the day her last check is returned in the mail, along with a mysterious note: “I am going on a journey, Kali. I am going back to my beginning; death is not the end. You will be the end. We will meet again, and there will be new stories. You know how Karma works.”

Then Kai’s most treasured secret literally lands on Paula’s doorstep, throwing her life into chaos and transforming her from only child to older sister. Desperate to find her mother before it’s too late, Paula sets off on a journey of discovery that will take her back to the past and into the deepest recesses of her heart. With the help of her ex-lover Birdwine, an intrepid and emotionally volatile private eye who still carries a torch for her, this brilliant woman, an expert at wrecking families, now has to figure out how to put one back together—her own.

The Opposite of Everyone is a story about story itself, how the tales we tell connect us, break us, and define us, and how the endings and beginnings we choose can destroy us . . . and make us whole. Laced with sharp humor and poignant insight, it is beloved New York Times bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson at her very best. -- William Morrow

My book club read THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE by Joshilyn Jackson for March. Last week, I gave a brief summary of how our group felt about the book, and I promised to share my thoughts in the near future!

THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE tells the story of Paula, a high-powered attorney who is still dealing with some baggage from her past. As a child, Paula, formerly known as Kali Jai, traveled around from place to place with her free-spirited mother Kai. Kai used to tell Paula stories that she made up using Hindu mythology; however, she eventually ended up in prison and Paula was left to navigate the foster care system for many years until she reached the age of eighteen.

The reader doesn't really know the entire story, but Paula feels a great deal of guilt when it comes to her mother and their relationship... or lack thereof. They haven't seen each other for fifteen years, but Paula sends a regular check to her mother. And then one day, the check is returned with a mysterious note about karma, death, the end, and new beginnings!

Paula is forced to examine her childhood and things get very interesting when a major secret appears at her door! Paula learns that she has a half-brother and his arrival causes Paula to experience even more guilty feelings. As Paula learns more about her mother and her life over the past fifteen years, she realizes that there is another HUGE secret that her mother kept from her. Paula and her brother set out to solve a mystery of sorts; and in the process, Paula realizes the importance of family and healing!

I really enjoyed THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE -- and that wasn't the case for everyone in our book club. I am a big fan of Ms. Jackson's and I was glad to see that this novel demonstrated her terrific writing style and her ability to weave a special story. I didn't love her last book, so I was happy that she was back (at least as far as I'm concerned) with THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE!

There were quite a few things that I appreciated about THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE. First and foremost, I liked the characters... especially Paula. Paula was one tough cookie who really did have some pretty major issues from her childhood. She had overcome a great deal in her professional life, but her personal life was still a bit of a mess. I found her to be a realistic and likable character, and I really enjoyed seeing her back-and-forth relationship with her private eye Birdwine. (It reminded me a bit of the relationship on the 1980s television show Moonlighting.)

One thing that I thought was very well done in this novel was Paula's struggle with her identity. She never knew her father, and she "lost" her mother at a pretty young and impressionable age. She grew up in the foster care system and really didn't have a family. In addition, she was of mixed race and didn't even know what race or races! I thought Ms. Jackson did a fantastic job of showing the inner workings of her mind and how she tried to cope with these issues.

Another interesting thing about this book was the author's use of Hindu mythology. There is no doubt that Paula's mom was a unique character! She and Paula moved around quite a bit and she also had her fair share of boyfriends. I wasn't a big fan of hers, but I did like that the author softened her by making her a wonderful storyteller. She used characters and stories from Hindu mythology to entertain Paula but also to share life lessons and messages with her. I thought Ms. Jackson did an excellent job of weaving these stories into the greater plot of THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE.

Finally, I found the messages in this novel to be very uplifting! There were times when the stories were pretty sad, especially as they related to Paula's life in foster care. However, I loved how Paula grew throughout the novel. At the beginning, she had a solid wall around herself out of self-preservation and survival; however, as the story progressed and she learned more about her past, she definitely softened and realized what's important. The overall messages about family and forgiveness are wonderful!

I do think THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE would make a great book club pick! We had a good time discussing Paula and all the dysfunctional surrounding her. There is a reading guide available with eleven questions that might help stimulate discussion. Some of the themes you might want to explore are stories, family, forgiveness, parent/child relationships, acceptance, guilt, an

THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE is an entertaining book that also touches upon some very serious issues. Highly recommended to fans of Ms. Jackson's and readers who enjoy stories about dysfunctional families.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

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