Goodreads: Mrs. Everything
Publish date: 11 June 2019
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary, Historical, LGBTQ+
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?
I was not expecting the emotional punch that I would get while reading Mrs. Everything. I always enjoy family sagas and the relationship between two sisters/siblings, and this book was no exception. I loved the glimpse of modern American history that we got while journeying with the Kaufman sisters from the 1950s to 2022. This was a beautiful story about coming-of-age, getting lost and discovering and accepting yourself, finding and losing love, building a life, motherhood, and a poignant look at the role of women in society throughout the decades.
Told in alternating chapters between Jo and Bethie, Weiner’s prose and style was simple and easy to read but immersive. I often found myself transported to the different periods of history, standing beside Jo or Bethie, while they were picketing or getting high at a party or standing on the porch of a commune. I also enjoyed how Weiner incorporated key events in America’s history into the story. As the story covers an extended period of time, the plot does jump locations fairly often, especially at the beginning, but it mainly centers around: Detroit, Avondale, and Atlanta.
You’re thrown into the center of the narrative from the start. Jo was the tomboy who doesn’t conform to her mother’s or society’s idea of how a lady should look/act. She was more comfortable in trousers playing sports. Bethie was the sweet darling, the natural beauty with a charming voice. She was the good girl and it seemed almost certain that their lives would follow the paths they’d been on as children, with Jo living as a free spirit, making a difference, and Bethie settling down and becoming a mum. But tragic things start happening to both sisters, and we see how one loses herself, only to learn how to embrace her past and “come out new”, while the other struggled to hide her sexual orientation, found and lost love, and decided to settle for normal. I honestly loved both sisters and my heart broke when tragedies would befall them, and soar whenever either one triumphed. Being a character driven story, you get a chance to see how they grow over the years. The Kaufman sisters are strong in their own ways, but they’re also very flawed and simply human.
“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.
Within the first 30% of the novel, Jo and Bethie already go through so much hardship that was so heartbreaking, but everything that happened to them throughout their lifetime was also completely believable. It was nothing spectacular in the sense that it’s a story that women have experienced and can relate to. Although it explores important issues about the role of women in society, it doesn’t feel preachy or like Weiner is trying to push a message down your throat. It’s very well-woven into the storyline and comes to play an important role in the latter part of the sisters’ lives. Even for an Asian woman such as myself, I found I could relate to some of their experiences, and a lot of what is discussed in this book. This story is so relevant to the social climate of today with the #metoo movement and rising feminism (not only in America but slowly worldwide too) and I think it’ll resonate with a lot of women who read it.
I’m giving this 4 stars because while I didn’t feel that any part of the story was unnecessary, I thought the middle lagged just a little, and the end felt a bit rushed. I thought we missed a key part of one of the main characters’ life in her later years of life, as it related to her sexuality and her family. I was surprised that Weiner didn’t write about it, as I think it was a pretty big deal for her character, and it just felt glossed over and made everything feel too neatly wrapped up. Still, this had a satisfying ending and although I’m a crier in general, I didn’t think I would be with this book. I was obviously proven wrong because I was crying hard at the end. 😅
Overall, I really enjoyed Mrs. Everything and I’m so glad that one of the ladies in my group read chats mentioned that this was available to “Read Now” on NetGalley because otherwise I probably would’ve missed it. I think it will stick with me long after I finish. This was my first book by Jennifer Weiner and I really enjoyed her writing, so I’m looking forward to reading more of what she has written. Fabulous book!
Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.
Have you read Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner? What did you think of it? This book is now out everywhere if you’re interested in picking up a copy!