Summary and book reviews of The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

The Opposite of Everyone

by Joshilyn Jackson

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2016, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2016, 352 pages

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Book 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 birthname 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 her own secrets, 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 cryptic letter. "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.

CHAPTER 1

I was born blue.

If my mother hadn't pushed me out quick as a cat, I would have been born dead and even bluer; her cord was wrapped tight around my neck. She looked at my little blue lips, my blue toes and baby fingers, and she named me after Kali. Kali Jai.

My mother was in the middle of a six-month stint in juvie for shoplifting and possession when I was born. She had thirty-six hours with me in the hospital before the state took her to finish out her sentence. My grandparents— stiff, unhappy couple that they were— got temporary custody.

Kai told them my name, but my prune-mouthed gramma filled out the paperwork. Gramma would later claim to have misheard, saying, What I put on that birth certificate sounds like whatever that was you said, but in American. My mother didn't know until she was released back into her parents' custody. By then, everyone in town was calling me Paula Jane.

You were originally named for the mother goddess...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Paula Vauss is a tough-as-nails divorce attorney who doesn't place much stock in personal relationships. She describes her upbringing as "a Frankenstein's monster made of stolen parts..." How much of who Paula is today is a response to her childhood? 

  2. After years of sending money to her estranged mother, Kai, Paula learns that Kai is dying of cancer and sends a cryptic message with the return of her last check. Are you surprised by her reaction to the news?

  3. Why does the pro-bono work with young, underprivileged girls make her feel close to her estranged mother, Kai? How would you describe Kai as a mother?

  4. Paula has spent the better part of her life beating herself up for calling...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Opposite of Everyone. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

After her initial shock of learning she has a brother, Paula seems to accept the idea of Julian (and, eventually, Hana) into her life. Were you surprised by her acceptance?
I was not surprised in the least. Despite her assertions that she wanted no committed relationships as an adult, she mourned her broken relationship with her mother and wanted to find a way to change history to avoid the loss. - andreab

After Paula wins her case against Skopes she puts on a victory playlist and looked for a date. Do you have a special treat or ritual you celebrate victories with?
I treat myself to a bowl of ice cream when I successfully complete goals. I also work really hard to save $ to treat myself to trips to places I've never been & so that I can buy myself a piece of jewelry as a souvenir for each new place visited. - PiperUp

Almost dying
I agree wholeheartedly with rebeccar, Paula needed and had to have a wake up call if this story was to end in the right direction. Paula was too sure of herself when it came to "hook-ups" and she needed a wake up call.Funny as the scene began the ... - caroln

Are you surprised by Paula's reaction to the news that her estranged mother is dying?
I recently went through this in my life with with my father and my reaction was very similar to Paula's. Toxic or not your parent is still your parent. Even if you think that you've accepted and come to terms with the past, old wounds are opened, ... - jillf

Did you like the "gritty" style?
Yes I think that it fit all of the diverse populations in this book. Sometimes Paula's skill to tell it like it is comes in handy. Unfortunately Paula's childhood taught her to know & see the "wrong" side of people. - tracyb

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book! From the very first pages I couldn't put it down. The characters were so real to me, and their story was so believable that I felt myself immersed in their lives.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

A bit too heavy on the Hindu mythology, this novel, nonetheless, makes some affecting points about the importance of the stories we tell to each other and to ourselves.

Publishers Weekly

This is an excellent read with a fresh take on the detective genre.

Kirkus

Starred Review. A searing yet ultimately uplifting look at broken people who heal themselves and each other through forgiveness, love, and the power of stories.

Library Journal

Starred Review. The story of how a hard-edged, biracial, self-sufficient divorce lawyer allows family and love back into her life after fiercely shielding herself from heartbreak for over 20 years is likely to join the author's six previous novels as a popular book club selection.

Author Blurb Sara Gruen, NYT bestselling author of At The Waters Edge and Water for Elephants
Jackson draws from both rural Alabama folklore and the god stories of ancient India, weaving these narratives flawlessly toward a crescendo that is straight out of an O'Connor tale - inevitable, surprising, and beautifully true in every sense of the word.

Author Blurb Susan Rebecca White, author of A Soft Place to Land
In The Opposite of Everyone, her seventh and quite possibly best novel yet, Joshilyn Jackson continues to explore themes that have wound their way through her other works: the ferocious - and sometimes feral - bond between mother and child, the blinders we wear in order to avoid seeing what's right before our eyes, the surprising nature of grace, which often acts as bulldozer rather than balm.

Reader Reviews

CarolN

Love Those Southern Writers. . .
An #1 Indie Next Pick, this beautifully layered novel features Paula Vauss (aka Kali Jali) who spent the first decade of her life on the road with her free-spirited mother, Kai. Her mother was a Georgia storyteller who blended Hindu mythology with ...   Read More

Paula J, Bath ME

Great characters
This was the first book I've read of Jackson's and I'll be looking for more. Great characters and a good story.

Bette Kidd

What a story!
This is a quirky and engaging story starring almost believable characters. It has everything I like in a novel--a clever and original plot that doesn't get too wrapped up in philosophical lectures--reader has to figure out the subjective, ...   Read More

SB

Karma is a bitch!
You can never really escape your past but it is your past that makes you who you are, whether you chose to use it is another story. Once again, Jackson introduces us to quirky, complicated characters who, whether or not you want them to, touch us in...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Tridevi in Hinduism

The Opposite of Everyone is peppered with elements from Hinduism, most prominently with references to the goddess Kali who is widely revered among Hindus for her ability to quell chaos during dark times (read 'Beyond the Book' for The Strangler Vine to learn more about Kali).

Left According to the tenets of Hinduism, the Supreme Being takes on the form of various gods and goddesses each worshipped for a special reason. At the top of the pantheon are three gods: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer. Afforded equal importance in the religion are their respective wives: Saraswati, the goddess of learning; Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity and Parvati, for love and fertility.

The Hindu festival ...

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