By Jennifer Weiner
Read by Ari Graynor and Beth Malone
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (June 2019)
Runtime: 16 hours and 45 minutes
I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader’s copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
From Jennifer Weiner, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who Do You Love and In Her Shoes comes a smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters’ lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places—and be true to themselves—in a rapidly evolving world.
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? https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Mrs-Everything/Jennifer-Weiner/9781508251804
Two sisters on separate paths, but still sisters.
From the beginning of the book, it’s obvious that Jo is different from what her mother wants. And, Bethie is the good daughter. Jo is smart and works hard but is struggling with her identity as a lesbian in the 1960s and 1970s when that lifestyle was considered, as her mother says, “unnatural.” Bethie is also smart but gets caught up in the drug culture of the late sixties. Eventually, both women get to a place of some peace, but it takes a long time to gt there. Getting to be one’s real self is rarely easy and is never ending. The 0s and 1970s were decades of great change. And I think it was science as birth control gave women control, TV showed us what was happening in the war and the space race.
This was a great book, and I enjoyed the narration. Although the book is told in the third person, each chapter is assigned to a sister and the sisters’ have separate narrators. And each narrator suits the character at the center.
What’s most important is that Weiner gets it right. I am a little younger than the characters in the book, but her feel for the family, the pressures of the times and how much it hurts to not be the child your family wants you to be, are pretty much what I saw and, in some ways, experienced. The ability to rehabilitate oneself, to rebirth (as one sister experiences). And, oh making hideous mistakes in front of company is as humiliating here as it was in real life.
Also, the relationship between sisters is explored – I have two sisters and, like many, , we’ve had estrangements and challenges like Bethie and Jo.
And, she draws the characters well. The most surprising character is Bethie; but the change in the character from good(ish) girl to wild-child is written into being and believable. The younger characters also experience upheavals, and like the older characters there may be resolution in some aspects of life but, not always in others.
This family saga is filled with emotions and growth for the characters but it may also give the reader an opportunity to look inside and at the past.