First line: "I was born blue."
Life hardened Paula Vauss and that makes her a great divorce attorney. It doesn't help, however, with interpersonal relationships. As a child, Paula's mother, Kai, carted her from town to town, boyfriend to boyfriend, telling her magical tales of mythology and folklore. Until a drug bust landed Kai in jail and Paula in a group home. Neither would ever be the same again.
Now it's been fifteen years since Paula last saw her mother. She's settled into her bachelor lifestyle in Atlanta but continues to send her mother a check every month. Payment for a debt she believes she owes Kai. And Kai cashes the check every month, until the last check. She returns it to Paula with a cryptic note. Not long after a young man shows up at her practice claiming to be her brother. Paula's safe, insulated life begins to go into a tailspin and soon she finds herself on the hunt for her estranged mother.
I went from Joshilyn Jackson newbie to devoted fan in approximately 300 pages. The Opposite of Everything is a delightfully dark tale of families and story and redemption and change and many other delectably rich facets of real life. Jackson's humor and charm compliment the painful verisimilitude Paula's world has to offer.
Jackson's characters drive the novel with their larger than life spirits and personalities. Paula carries so much baggage, she's regularly paying the over-weight charges on her life flights. She describers her life like this:
"My story is a Frankenstein's monster made of stolen parts, many too small to be sourced, the original morals melded or cut away entirely."
And that highlights one of the major themes of the novel, which is how story shapes a person's life. Then what happens when that story turns out to be very different from what you first perceived it to be?
Paula's trusted P.I. pal, Zachary Birdwine, totes his fair share of baggage as well. But he also provides a stabilizing element to Paula's existence. His compassion and fortitude make him a hero worth cheering for, even if he does have his weaknesses and personal demons.
But the central characters aren't they only stars on this stage. Many of the minor supporting characters are as fascinating and engaging as Paula. Oakleigh Winkley is what Paula terms a BANK divorce client--"both assholes, no kids." Oakleigh is attitude personified, and she's viciously smart to boot.
The children of Paula's group home are heart-breakingly authentic with coping mechanisms of every shape and color. I was especially captivated by Candace, a conniving young girl who really just wants to be loved. As part of this blog tour, the hosts held a conference call with Joshilyn Jackson and had the chance to ask her some questions. My question dealt with Candace, and this is what Joshilyn had to say about her:
"Candace is a creature that I understand. They use to say you had 'flight' or 'fight' reflexes. Now they say it's 'flight,' 'fight' or 'freeze." Candace is probably a 'freezer' and I'm probably a 'freezer.' I had a different life from Candace, but I see how you end up going down that path. I think I'm not done with Candace. I don't think Candace is done with Paula. Paula would like to be done with Candace."
I'll share a little more from our conference call at the end of this review.
Part of what makes Jackson's characters so outstanding is her strong gift for dialogue and the wonderful Southern flavor to the language. The flow of conversation is natural, often humorous and always faithful to the character.
The Opposite of Everyone will ring true for anyone who's ever felt on the outside. And even if you were always part of the "in" crowd, you'll find much to appreciate in this novel packed with love and loss, hope and despair, devotion and betrayal. It's charming and witty and slightly unnerving. It's what good reading is all about.
The Opposite of Everyone is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780062105684) from William Morrow and as an unabridged audio (ISBN: 9781504695558), narrated by Joshilyn Jackson, from Harper and Blackstone Audio.
As promised, I wanted to share a little more of the conference call we had with Joshilyn Jackson. I was especially moved by a response she gave to a question about readers finding things in her books that she didn't intend to be there. Here's what she had to say:
"No one on this planet is going to read the book I wrote and that's good. The book I wrote was a conversation I had with a story that to me was about the mechanics of forgiveness and with how narrative and story has the power to shape us--both cultural narrative and personal narrative. And that's the conversation I was having, but there's all this other stuff in there. And when the book is published, this really neat thing happens. What happens is I have to shut up and I don't get to have the conversation anymore. And all over the country hundreds of thousands of conversations will happen between my book and a reader, and every one of those conversations will be absolutely as valid as the conversation I had with the book; and some of them will hate the book and some of them will love the book and some of them will be enraged by the book and some of them will be validated and delighted by the book and I won't have anything to do with it. The book will bring half the conversation and the reader will bring the other half. I will have absolutely no control over it.
The first book when that happened it was so terrifying and horrifying, I think that's why so many people have trouble with the second book and why so many people publish one book and then stop. You have to come to a point where you think it's kind of beautiful that your book, separate from you and completely outside of your influence, is having conversations with human beings."
I had a wonderful conversation with this book. If you pick it up, I hope you'll let me know how your conversation goes. If you're interested, you can watch the entire call and see what else Joshilyn had to share:
My review today is part of the TLC book tour for The Opposite of Everything. Check the schedule to see what other bloggers are saying about Joshilyn Jackson's eighth novel, meanwhile I'll be checking out her earlier books.
Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work with them does not obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.