Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

Jo and Bethie are so excited to move into their new home on Alhambra Street in Detroit in 1950.  It is a very big day for the family.  And once again,  Jo is unable to perform in a “ladylike” way and disappoints her mother.  Why can’t she be more like her sister, who seems to just know how to be the perfect little girl?  From Bethie’s point of view, however, being the pretty little girl may hold some power, but it also comes at some formidable peril.  As the two sisters grow and navigate the decades of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and so on, we have the privilege of following along with them on their turbulent, sometimes traumatic, and occasionally victorious journeys.

This is an epic novel for Jennifer Weiner, who has traced these decades of history with warmth and insight, from the perspective of these two sisters who struggle over these decades to find themselves.  Jo and Bethie, and the other characters woven around them, are so real that when they lose themselves, we feel lost as well, and when they hurt, we hurt.  They are flawed and vulnerable and often become collateral damage in each others’ sisterly wake.  But we find ourselves also moving on when they do and rejoicing at their successes as our own.

Herein Weiner is also giving voice to women, who have evolved over these decades and yet not evolved, whose roles have expanded and yet not expanded.  Weiner addresses the many ways in which women are expected to fulfill all roles – mother, homemaker, breadwinner, and wife, and yet find time for themselves, to feel fulfilled and to fall in line with society’s expectations.  She loops in race and prejudice,  primarily from the perspective of the Jewish experience of a people who have been targeted but who also have their own stereotypical racial biases.  In addition, she also gives voice to the women who have experienced sexual violence and sexual harassment over these decades and how it impacts and informs their entire life experience.  It is quite symbolic that Jell-O, the quintessential 1950’s, traditional Thanksgiving side dish associated with Jo’s worst adolescent evening is later in the novel thrown all over an emblem of her daughter’s supposed progress.  Jell-O becomes a symbolic fuck-you to all of the supposed progress, calling out the hypocrisy in the idea that things have changed enough.

At first glance, this novel might be written off as a simple story of two sisters, but it is in fact an articulate commentary on the struggle of women for power vs being overpowered and for status vs the status quo.  It also directs us to be hopeful for future generations, especially if we stick together and have each others’ backs.



Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

6066819This is the quintessential summer read!

I love Jennifer Weiner!  Her writing is always witty, sarcastic, entertaining and full of heart – and this book is yet another example of this.

Addie and Valerie, who although are very different, grew up as best friends, living across the street from each other and sharing all their childhood secrets.  Unfortunately, their paths diverged when an incident in high school sent them spinning in very different directions.  Suddenly, now, many years later, just after their high school reunion, Valerie shows up at Addie’s doorstep asking for help after what may have been a serious crime.  Almost in spite of herself, Addie is drawn in to the drama and their adventure begins.

What I love about Weiner’s writing is the building of characters that the reader loves.  The reader cannot help rooting for Addie in this story – she’s an underdog who you can’t help adoring for her steadfast loyalty to her friend and her family.  Even Valerie, who is vain and materialistic, is sympathetic and entertaining in her own right.  Each of the characters is written with tenderness and self-deprecation and you can’t help wanting to know how it all ends for each of them.

I think I may have a deeper appreciation for Jennifer Weiner, also, since I had the amazing opportunity to be present during BookCon (a few weekends ago at the Javits Center), when she interviewed Judy Blume.  There was such a great rapport between the 2 of them ,as they spoke about everything from writing to sex and to the size of their respective chests.  They were both warm, funny, smart and respectful of each other’s talent —  I could have listened to them converse for hours!

Bottom line, I’d take this with me to Cape Cod if I hadn’t already read it!