I’ve heard about Jennifer Weiner since Good In Bed in 2001, but at the time I was too young to read her, and I strangely haven’t gotten around to reading anything of hers since. I was drawn to Mrs. Everything (in stores June 11) because of the beautiful cover—and because I saw who the author was. I’ve since come to realize through some research that Weiner’s latest is not in her typical style and that this story was going to be a little heavier than her usual novel, but I think anyone familiar with her work (or new to it, like me) should give this one a read.
Do we change or does the world change us?
Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.
Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.
But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?
It took me a while to understand what the connection of the title was to the rest of the book, but once I got it, it hit me like a ton of bricks: Who is Mrs. Everything? Why are women still trying to have it all and do it all to please everyone else? And what are the stakes to be who you truly want to be?
I absolutely love that this story starts in the ’50s and make its way to the present day. We not only get a glimpse into these women’s lives, but in some cases, we get their whole story, from childhood to old age… and how much the world changes from decade to decade, even now.
These characters are rich, deeply developed women who feel real and relatable. From Jo, who could never quite fit in; her sister Bethie, who wants nothing more than to fit in, to her detriment; their mother, Sarah, who does whatever it takes to survive, while also trying to be the perfect housewife; and every other woman they encounter along the way. Their stories demonstrate the power (and the struggle) of women and how much we endure every day while trying to fit into the standards set upon us by society.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll feel like you’re part of the sisterhood… for better or for worse.
“Women had made progress—Jo only had to look as far as the television set to see it—but she wondered whether they would ever not try to have it all and do it all and do all of it flawlessly. Would the day ever come when simply doing your best would be enough?” —Jennifer Weiner, Mrs. Everything
Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for the advanced copy, and to Art of Roch on Unsplash for the featured photo of women on the beach.