This review has to start with a shout out to my best friend, who moved away after college and now lives hundreds of miles away from me.
On my birthday this past year, I opened a package in the mail from her. Inside, a note and a book. She explained that in lieu of a “monthly subscription box” she would be creating her own book box, sending me a book a month for 12 months that she thought I would enjoy.
She lived with me for two years in school, so she knows me well! That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I opened the first box and found a book I’d been wanting to purchase from my bookstore for months… Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner!
Mrs. Everything opens in 2015 on Jo Kaufman discovering her cancer has returned. Does she have enough time left to put her family back together?
We then jump back to 1950, with six year old Jo and her little sister Bethie about to move into a small, suburban Detroit home. Jo is a troublemaker, refusing to wear her little skirts and dresses and preferring pants instead. Bethie is the good girl, the perfect daughter — a skilled actress, a hardworking student, her mother’s helper. Jo and Sarah (their mother) do not get along; Sarah adores Bethie.
But as time goes on, circumstances and events transpire that cause a switch.
Jo gets married and lives in Connecticut suburbs with her husband and their three children. Her life has echoed her mother’s, something she tried hard to avoid. Bethie is a kindred free-spirit, traveling, using drugs and pickpocketing to get around.
How could they have gotten there? Can you get your life back on the path you’d always envisioned? More importantly, do you want to?
Mrs. Everything is told from the perspectives of both Jo and Bethie, alternating chapters.
As I typically do with books of this nature, like a few other multiple perspective books I’ve read this year (An American Marriage, Nine Perfect Strangers), I found myself more strongly compelled by one character’s narrative than the other. I was hooked on many of the Jo chapters, racing to get through the Bethie chapters to get to the next Jo.
I think it’s possible that having a prologue centered around modern-day Jo had me feeling tied to her because I sort of “knew” how she ended up, and wanted to know what got her there. It was the equivalent of reading the last page first… but not quite!
Bethie didn’t have the same kind of intrigue attached to her story right from the get-go.
That said, the lives of both sisters completely hooked me… after some initial hesitation.
The first — I’d say —150–200 pages or so were quite slow. I understand the need for background on each girl’s childhood and how it shaped their decisions down the line, but I became much more invested after they had agency and independence.
Once Jo and Bethie could make decisions for themselves and move more freely through the world, everything carried an extra layer of importance. It elevated the book beyond the “extremely tough childhood” trope, if one can call it that.
I was struck by the details that the author chose to include, and leave out.
There were many conversations that must have happened in between characters that were left out for various reasons, and I’d love to know why.
In a few cases, I thought those conversations would have added a lot of emotion and depth to the book. However, I also see how excluding them added depth. In some ways, it didn’t seem like Weiner wanted us to experience the most heightened moments of Jo and Bethie’s stories, I’ll assume because they might have taken away from the overall message and be remembered as standalone moments, rather than one big picture.
Unfortunately the two cases of this that are jumping out to me are major spoilers, so I won’t share. But if you read and feel similarly about certain parts, I’d love to have a conversation!
I do have to say that overall, Miss Scarlet Marie was a big fan of Mrs. Everything.
Although the two sisters seemed to be faced with more than any family should ever have to, it was a beautiful chronology, touching on so many major parts of the culture from the 50s to 2010s (side bar: can we call that the 10s???) and a family just trying to get by through it all.
The reveal of the title Mrs. Everything within the novel I found to be so moving and genius. Read it, if only for that.
3.5 out of 5 stars.