May Read of the Month: “The Opposite of Everyone,” by Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson

Reviewed by Johnnie Bernhard

I was fortunate to hear Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author of ten novels, speak at the Spring 2018 Jambalaya Writers Conference hosted by the award-winning Terrebonne Parish Library of Houma, Louisiana.  Jackson is as impressive a speaker as she is a writer.  I instantly became a fan!

Jackson’s The Opposite of Everyone is an emotionally raw, poignant story of a mother-daughter relationship that evolves from living on the edge to incarceration and estrangement.

Yet the most natural of bonds, that of a mother and her child, is never forgotten as the years and separation change both women, eventually leading to forgiveness and, at last, the gift of family.

Jackson takes us through the South’s small towns and low-rent urban housing as we follow the first ten years of Paula Vauss’s life on the road with her fragile and flawed young mother, Kai.  Kai is a master storyteller, blending Hindu mythology with Southern oral tradition as she reinvents their mother-daughter history to adapt to each new town and situation.  Lives are forever changed when Kai is incarcerated, and Paula is sent to foster care.

Paula learns how to fight in foster care.  The tenacity to survive the life she has been given enables her to become a successful divorce lawyer in Atlanta with a tendency to do pro bono work for wayward girls.  Like all great writers of Southern fiction, Jackson reminds us that the past is never past.  Despite her financial success, Paula remains the scrappy girl from foster care, still searching for the mother she hasn’t seen in fifteen years.

Eventually, the secret Paula discovers in “finding” her mother leads to her own self-discovery.  She is transformed as an only child of Kai’s to an older sister in a family birthed by Kai.

Paula, the lawyer who’s well paid to separate families, must now learn to put one back together.  Helping her in this transformation is her ex-lover Birdwine, a heavy-drinking private eye with his own secrets of abandonment and familial loss.

The Opposite of Everyone is a quick read that lingers long after you have finished it.  I cared about each character because Jackson created them with sincere, emotional depth.  I was, as I read, reminded of the brutal yet poignant South of Flannery O’Connor.

Thank you, Joshilyn Jackson, for giving a voice to the marginalized and exploited little girls who move just below the surface throughout the South’s small towns and cheap urban rentals.  You’ve reminded us that their stories matter, too.

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