Thursday, July 4, 2019

Review: Mrs. Everything

Summary: Do we change or does the world change us?

Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world? -- Atria

I can't really explain why I feel the need to read everything Jennifer Weiner writes. Like many of you, I loved her first novel GOOD IN BED; however, I feel like I've been reading her books for almost twenty years trying to capture that same feeling again. I can say that I've enjoyed a few of her books and that I've been meh about quite a few, but I think she's really found her voice again with her latest novel MRS. EVERYTHING.

MRS. EVERYTHING is a big novel that tells the story of the Kaufman sisters, Jo and Bethie (Little Women?), from their childhood through much of their adult lives. They novel begins in the 1950s when their family moves to an idyllic neighborhood in the Detroit suburbs. Jo is the smart tomboy while Bethie is the pretty one who loves being on stage. The girls have pretty normal lives until a family tragedy occurs that turns their lives upside-down.

The novel follows Jo and Bethie through their high school years and then their college ones as they face the changing times our of country including Vietnam and Woodstock. Both girls continue to experience life, and some hard times, as they discover who they truly are (or aren't!). Jo winds up married with daughters of her own, while Bethie becomes a bit of a wild flower child. Ironically, neither woman is actually living the life they had once hoped for.

After everything these woman have experienced in their lifetimes, can Jo and/or Bethie finally make the tough decisions and find happiness?

I found MRS. EVERYTHING to be a very interesting read and probably Ms. Weiner's most important novel. I enjoyed the story of these two sisters who lead very separate lives but are ultimately there for each other, and I definitely appreciated what Ms. Weiner set out to do with this book. I grew to really like these women, although I did get frustrated with them many times; and I found the story to be both touching and uplifting.

What I think I enjoyed the most about MRS. EVERYTHING, though, was how the novel explored women from the 1950s to present-day. It's kind of amazing of how much we've changed and how far we've come since serving the role of wife and mother and living in the suburbs. While it's apparent by the end of this novel that women have made huge strides in being equal, the novel still shows that women have a ways to go.

If I have one slight issue with the novel, it's that I think maybe Ms. Weiner tried to do too much with the story. It seems like every major event and every issue that a woman could experience made some sort of appearance in this book. Having said that, it might have been necessary so she could truly show how the roles of women have evolved through time -- I'm not entirely sure...

What I am 100% sure of is that MRS. EVERYTHING would make a great book club pick. There truly is so much to discuss about these two sisters' lives as well as the roles of women in general. Check out this reading guide with twelve discussion questions as well as some ideas to enhance your book club.

All in all, I'd say that MRS. EVERYTHING is the best Jennifer Weiner novel I've read since GOOD IN BED. I think fans of women's fiction will find a lot of like and think about with this story.

I received an e-copy of this novel from the publisher on Edelweiss.


bermudaonion said...

I've never read Good in Bed so have only experienced her meh novels so skipped on this one. It sounds like I made a mistake!

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

We just picked this as one of our book club reads for the next year. However, it is not on deck until next June. I remember enjoying Good in Bed and then nothing else. But I can't recall what else of hers I'v read!

Stacie said...

I also stopped reading some of her latest books, but I've heard such great things about this one and your review sounds like I should definitely read it. I may choose it as my book club choice!