Jo and Bethie Kauffman are polar opposites as kids. Bethie is the girlie girl, the apple of her mother’s eye, prim and proper, dressed in frills and lace. Jo is lanky, sporty, with skinned knees and a proclivity for getting in trouble, as well as playing with the maid’s kid.
Jennifer Weiner introduces us to the Kauffman sisters and spins a beautiful, multigenerational tale around them–from their childhood in the 1950s, through their formative teen years and into their experiences at the University of Michigan. Drugs, race relations, Vietnam, women’s rights, nothing is off limits in this story as the sisters navigate a rapidly changing world.
Based on reading the first few chapters, one would expect Bethie to marry a nice young man and have a bunch of kids, while Jo gets involved in some protests, maybe gets thrown in jail, only to eventually become a lawyer. That person would be wrong.
A heart-wrenching examination of what shapes priorities and how they shift over time, Mrs. Everything looks at society and cultural norms through the lens of family. Is anyone ever really happy? Is it possible to be truly happy when your goal is to be (as Everclear sang) everything to everyone?
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. It’s my first by Jennifer Weiner, although I’ve seen the movie version of In Her Shoes and thoroughly enjoyed it. To be honest, I thought it would be lighter than it was, a happier book about good times in the 70s. It was surprisingly applicable to my own life, now, and made me think of my mother’s life and her own mother’s life before, and how their choices impacted my childhood.
We are smacked in the face daily with pressure to BE more, to LOVE more, to CARE more, to WORK and to THINK and to GIVE more. Every single day when we wake up we are facing up to the expectations of the people around us. Age, gender and skin color factor into how those around us think we should be… but ultimately it’s up to us to make the choices that are best for us and to stand by those choices.
In Mrs. Everything, we see how Jo and Bethie respond to pressure, and the repercussions that reverberate from their decisions across the generations.