Desert Isle Keeper
Jennifer Weiner is known for writing remarkably emotive books about women, their struggles, and their triumphs. In Mrs. Everything, she does this again, but in a much bigger, bolder way than before.
Jo and Bethie Kaufman are sisters, growing up in 1950s Detroit and leading lives that are pretty average when compared to those of their neighbors. Jo is a tomboy with dreams of creating a world where inequality no longer exists, while Bethie is studious creative, and ultra feminine. In spite of their differences, the sisters are close, always ready and willing to stand up for one another when times get tough, and believe me, they do get tough!
Upon graduating from high school, the sisters’ lives diverge. They still keep in close touch, but they run with different crowds in college. Jo becomes involved in student activism, while Bethie experiments with drugs and alcohol in an attempt to block out a childhood trauma her family never fully allowed her to deal with. Jo falls deeply in love with another woman, while Bethie is drawn to the college bad boy. In many ways, the sisters are living out different facets of the American experience, but neither feels completely comfortable with her place in a constantly changing world.
It’s hard for me to adequately summarize Mrs. Everything, since so much of the novel’s magic comes from the reader’s personal relationship with Jo and Bethie. They never felt like mere characters in a story to me, and Ms. Weiner managed to bring them to life in a way few authors are able to do. I felt like I really knew them, and in a way, I guess I do, since their stories are the stories of women everywhere.
Perhaps the greatest thing about this book is its huge scope. Mrs. Everything spans nearly seventy years, allowing us to track the sisters throughout their lives. We watch them grow into strong, independent, but deeply flawed women, with heartaches and successes that feel unique and universal at the same time.
It’s clear Ms. Weiner did a lot of research while writing this book. She imbues each page with a phenomenal sense of place, allowing me to slip out of my everyday life and into the lives of the Kaufman sisters. I was particularly drawn to the parts of the story set in Detroit, since that’s very near where I grew up. I was able to imagine myself in some of the places where Jo and Bethie spent time, and this added a wonderful layer of authenticity to the story.
This is a book I want to recommend to everyone I know. It really doesn’t matter who you are, or what your personal experiences have been; you’ll find something to love and relate to in these pages. Ms. Weiner has a way of speaking to the hearts and minds of women everywhere, allowing us to see ourselves in her characters, even if our experiences are quite different from those she’s describing.
I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this epic novel, but to say more would be doing potential readers a great disservice. Just go out and procure a copy of Mrs. Everything, and be prepared to laugh, cry, and rage along with these unforgettable women.