Book Review: The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
“But isn’t that the point of a rescue? You take somebody out of where it’s bad. You bring them someplace better. Not perfect. No place is perfect. You bring them to the best place that you can.”
Another delightful gem from Joshilyn Jackson. A sweet friend sent me The Opposite of Everyone when she visited Square Books in Oxford, which is on my list of indie bookstores to check out. My favorite is Sundog Books in Seaside, Florida, and I'll be there in just a few short weeks! The Opposite of Everyone is a little different than the previous Joshilyn Jackson novels I’ve read, but still so wonderful. Paula Vauss is a super successful divorce attorney in Atlanta, but she is haunted by her childhood and estranged from her mother. Growing up, she and her mom Kai bounced around from different places as different people, living with Kai’s boyfriends. But when Paula makes a decision out of anger that sends her mom off to prison and Paula to a group home, nothing will ever be the same between them.
While Paula is working on one of her divorce cases, she needs her trusted private investigator, Zach Birdwine. But she and Birdwine haven’t spoken in months because even though they've worked together for nine years, they recently fell into what Paula thought was a friends with benefits situation. However, Birdwine broke it off because she was too closed off and has been avoiding her for months. Also, Birdwine is an alcoholic, and she has seen enough of his relapses to know to distance herself at certain points. Once she convinces Birdwine to work with her again and she's not trying to rekindle their relationship, she feels like her life is back to normal. But things are about to fall apart. Part of Paula’s penance for her estrangement with Kai is sending her a check every month; that is the only time there is any communication between the two. However, when Kai returns the last check to Paula voided with a note saying she is dying and to not come and look for her, Paula is immediately caught off guard and for the next few months, she suffers from panic attacks and begins to slack off at work, which she has never done.
Five months after her mother’s note, Paula meets Julian Bouchard, her half-brother, a brother she never knew of because Kai had him while she was in prison when Paula was 11 years old. Paula remembers Kai’s subdued personality following her incarceration, and suddenly, things become so much clearer to Paula. While she is at first resistant to befriending Julian, he quickly worms his way into her heart. Because of her estrangement with Kai, Paula doesn’t know if she is even capable of love and letting someone in anymore. That is why she has never had a serious romantic relationship and really only has three close friends, one being Birdwine. But now because of Julian, she realizes there is more to life than work and sex. The rest of the novel follows Paula and Julian’s relationship and Birdwine helping them track down Kai.
Once Paula realizes that Julian is her brother and figures out the timeline, she begins to recall her days in her group home, while Kai was incarcerated. I liked how Joshilyn Jackson used the flashbacks to coincide with Paula’s realizations and feelings in present day. The contrast was really interesting, plus it helped us understand Paula as an adult. It makes sense that she has trust and abandonment issues when you learn that not only was her mother incarcerated for something Paula put forth into motion, but also how nomadic her childhood was. She is mixed race, but Kai never told her who her father was, so she was not generally accepted by the white girls, the Hispanic girls, or the black girls in the group home. She only befriended Joya, a black girl, because they both had mothers that were coming back for them; the two of them were called "the Gotmamas". I found Paula's background so fascinating. I do not know much about the foster care system and group homes, but I know that Jackson is extremely involved with women’s prison outreach. Jackson heavily researches for all of her books, so I am glad that I now know a little bit more about these issues. Foster care is not generally written about (or at least not in books I have read), so I am thankful for Jackson’s honest writing and portrayal of difficult subject matter.
In the other three Joshilyn Jackson novels I have read, so much of the focus is on the South and small Southern towns. The Opposite of Everyone takes place in Atlanta, but doesn’t actually focus too much on the Southern culture. Jackson instead incorporates Hindu tales with Kai’s vivid Southern-style oral storytelling. This was not something I expected at all, but I thought it made the novel so much better for this interesting combination of cultures. Kai’s real name is actually Karen, and she wanted to name Paula Kali Jai, after the Hindu goddess. All throughout her childhood, Paula heard countless stories about the different gods and goddesses and how even though Kali was widely known as the goddess of death, Kai always told her that Kali was a strong mother figure. Again this is another subject I did not know much about prior to reading this novel, but I enjoyed these additions to the book.
One of the main themes throughout all of Joshilyn Jackson's novels is the importance of family, no matter the makeup. Growing up, Paula's only family was Kai. Once they became estranged, Paula basically had no family and was only close to one, maybe two people. Once she realizes Julian is her half-brother, she begins to make room for him in her life, even though she doesn't really know how. Julian was lucky to be adopted by a loving couple, who unfortunately both passed away months before he tracked down Paula. So the two of them approach their relationship very differently, but both feel lucky that they have found each other. I also loved how protective Julian was of Paula when he realized that Paula and Birdwine had a history. It was too cute.
I cannot say enough good things about Joshilyn Jackson. She has quickly become one of my go-to authors, and I cannot wait to read more of her books. I have several on my shelf I need to read soon, and then she has a new novel coming out next year. I loved The Opposite of Everyone. I give it 4 stars!
Who are some of your go-to authors?