Review of The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

Opp of EveryoneThis book is a genre kaleidoscope – a mystery, hiding inside a courtroom drama, hiding inside a domestic thriller, hiding inside a literary novel. The composite of these elements is what makes The Opposite of Everyone such a wonderful book.

Paula Vauss is now a high-powered divorce attorney, whose specialty is ripping-up greedy soon-to-be ex-spouses in the courtroom, successfully winning huge awards for her rich and powerful clients.  Her current persona is a far cry from the damaged girl who was her past. Paula’s identity has always been muddled, both literally and figuratively. She is a mixture of white, and black, and Asian, with arresting green eyes.

Paula’s mother, Karen, was a wild child, who wanted nothing more than to leave her strict upbringing and emotionally void parents for the freedom of the road. Karen reimagined herself into a hippy love-child who was filled with the stories and customs of Hinduism, changing her name to Kai, and reinventing Paula as Kali Jai.  After being released from juvenile detention, where Paula was born, Kai and Kali left everything traditional behind, and never looked back. Kai and Kali lived from boyfriend to boyfriend, place to place, constantly reinventing themselves for each new environment in which they found themselves. Paula was happy to mold herself into whatever daughter her mother wanted her to be, once even pretending to be Kai’s little sister for two years.

I have become the me my mother has invented to match the her she’s made for Dwayne. The word mama is an odd shape in my mouth after spending two years as Kai’s orphaned baby sister. This new daughter-self pinches at me from the bottom up, like I’m wedged into my old shoes.

But at the pivotal age of thirteen, Paula was weary of the constant upheaval in her life, and decided to take action. What happened next changed their lives forever, and caused Paula remorse and guilt felt for a lifetime.

Most of the book takes place in the present, with Paula’s life as a divorce attorney.  She’s tough and callous on the outside, but inside she knows she’s missing something – she has an emptiness that is never quite filled. Paula’s private investigator and sometimes love interest, Zachary Birdwine, gathers the information she needs to get her clients the best divorce settlements possible.  And when Paula’s monthly check to her mother is returned-to-sender with a cryptic note, Birdwine is enlisted to investigate.

Paula’s present collides with her past as she remembers the turmoil of being raised by a mother who always put a man first. But Paula decides she must now try to find the mother who broke her heart, all the while dealing with the irrational craziness of her wealthy clients.

Paula’s search unravels new secrets from her childhood that shake her to her core.

Will Paula unravel the hidden truth about her past? 

That was the journey itself in a nutshell – looking at the holes where we’d once been.

 I truly enjoyed the multiple themes running through the story. And as a mystery, this book wasn’t written in the hard-boiled-detective style, but with tender prose sometimes lyrical in its description of Paula’s inner conflicts, and her attempts to come to terms with the mistakes of her past.

We touched softly in deference to all the ways that we were wounded, working around each other’s bruises and ruined places.

For a good mystery/court-room-drama/domestic thriller with the heartfelt depictions of a damaged past, this book has Something for Everyone.

I recommend The Opposite of Everyone. 

(And thank you HarperCollins for providing me with an advance copy to read and review.)

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