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Mrs. Everything

by Jennifer Weiner

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner X
Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 480 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2020, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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JHSiess

A sweeping exploration of womanhood in America
Bestselling author Jennifer Weiner says she has been thinking about the story of Mrs. Everything "for a really long time." She always knew that she wanted to pen a historical novel with "a lot of sweep and a lot of heft that would cover not just women in the present, but would cover generations. That started to feel a lot more urgent after the 2016 election and rise of the MeToo movement." Her goal was to use her characters to explore "the story of women in America -- where we've been, where we've gotten and, as the mother of daughters, where we still need to go." With Mrs. Everything, Weiner has achieved her goal in entertaining and absorbing fashion.

Mrs. Everything is a saga that plays out across more than six decades and examines the journeys of Jo and Bethie, two sisters who are, of course, total opposites. Bethie is pretty, feminine, and loves to be in the spotlight. She learns at an early age how to get what she wants from boys using her female charms. In contrast, Jo is athletic, political, and although she, like Bethie, has boyfriends, they don't interest her much. At an early age she discovers why, painfully aware that she will always have to keep her desires secret, hidden away from a society that won't accept her as she is.

Jo is a constant source of exasperation to their long-suffering Jewish mother, Sarah. When their father dies suddenly, Sarah is forced to take a job in the local department store to support the family. Jo feels their father's absence acutely and it strains her relationship with Sarah further since he ran interference between the two of them. But both girls step up to assist with Jo taking a job as a camp counselor while Bethie signs on to perform household tasks in their uncle's home after school.

A horrific event forever alters the course of both of their lives. Jo comes to Bethie's aid, scuttling her plan to travel abroad with her girlfriend when she uses the money she had saved to help Bethie. Shattered, and so unsure of who she has become or what the future holds for her, Bethie wanders the country and eventually ends up living on a commune, while Jo decides that convention is the safest route. Through the years, the girls' lives are beset by molestation by a relative, gang rape, abortion, an eating disorder, drug use, sexual harassment in the workplace, a shocking betrayal by a friend and spouse, and cancer, all against the backdrop of sociological changes. including the sexual revolution, women's liberation, and the fight for reproductive and civil rights.

Weiner's portrayal of the sibling relationship is believable and sometimes makes for painful reading. Typical of sisters, they go through periods when they barely communicate with or see each other, but remain bound together in the mysterious, inexplicable way that only sisters can be. They harbor grudges, resentments, and anger. At one point Bethie exclaims to Jo, "You think that I ruined your life? Well, I think you ruined mine." They confound each other. But they also come together when one needs the other, their loyalty forceful and, ultimately, unbreakable. Both characters are fully drawn and empathetic -- deeply flawed and aggravating, but also endearing. Just like members of one's own family.

Mrs. Everything is an ambitious, compelling, and unsparing look at sexism, stereotypes, conventional roles, and women's ongoing drive for the freedom to unashamedly be true to their own spirits. In 2016, now in her 70s, Jo ponders all the strides made by women during her lifetime, wondering, "Would the day ever come when simply doing your best would be enough?" Through Jo and Bethie's experiences, Weiner challenges readers to consider how a woman should be in the world while remaining true to herself. To emphasize the conundrum, Weiner concludes the book in 2016, a watershed year for women by any measure. But a year in which it became obvious just how much farther women have to go.

Weiner says she hopes her readers will find everything they have come to expect from her writing in Mrs. Everything: "That it will be funny and engaging and observant; that it will have characters who feel like women you know." In many ways, Mrs. Everything feels like quintessential Weiner, but it is much more. With Mrs. Everything, Weiner has clearly stepped out of her comfort zone and into edgier, more controversial topics and a deeply moving examination of her characters and their motivations. Mrs. Everything constitutes a strong declaration about the current state of womanhood in the United States. It is sure to be deemed one of the best books of 2019.
Power Reviewer
Betty Taylor

Realistic Family Saga
Jennifer Weiner is known for her stories of sibling relationships. With her newest book MRS. EVERYTHING she brings us siblings Jo and Bethie Kaufman. However, where this book differs from all her others is the time span of the story. She gives us three generations of women over a 60-year span. The Kaufmans are a Jewish Russian immigrant family who assimilate well into their community while maintaining their Jewish identity. So it was refreshing to have these characters be a “typical” Jewish family in America.

As the book opens in 1951 Jo is six years old and Bethie is four; the story ends in 2016. Jo is the sister that doesn’t care what other people think of her, while Bethie cares too much. Weiner’s description of the simple life for children in the fifties made me nostalgic for my childhood (although I was a decade later).

I enjoyed reading of the different directions life took them, but how sibling loyalty was still there. We travel with them through the sixties and the time of “free love” and drugs. We feel the conflict as their sexual identity is explored. I think there is something in this book that will strike home for everyone. While I cringed over drugs and “free love” portions it did remind me of hearing all this on the news. I was sheltered from that but knew it was out there. So to a degree I could relate. As the next two generations came along I could relate to the traits that carry on in the next generations and the frustration and dawning recognition of seeing yourself in your own children. (And blessing your parents for letting you live!)

While this is overall a more serious read that we are used to from Weiner she still gives us her special touches of humor. Example: Around page 40 she gives us a truly unique take on the Purimspiel. I dare you not to laugh!

This is a very realistic family saga that I highly recommend. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the advance reading copy. Opinions expressed are my own.
diane a friedman

soap opera in book form
Too much repetition; from Jo and the Bethie comments with description not that different. Everything does happen to these girls so much so that when Jo's daughter is missing, I thought she had committed suicide, the only tragedy not written in this book.
Peg Meents

Leave it in the bargain bin!
Such misleading summaries, cover sheet information. This lesbian love story drips with stupidity as two self-centered Jewish girls indulge in sex, drugs, racial issues, abortion etc. Author interjects political crap also. Should make a tv mini-series of this passionate drama as it is a Hollywood-type fiction. If you are a woman who has true strength of character don’t waste your time with Mrs Everything.
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