‘The Opposite of Everyone’ Readalong – Part Two
We’ve reached the end of part two of our readalong for Joshilyn Jackson’s The Opposite of Everyone. If you haven’t finished the first eight chapters, there’s still time to catch up! (Get the notes for part one here and part three here.) We’ll be discussing these notes and the themes in part two through next week, so join in with your own thoughts using the hashtags #southernlit and #jjreadalong. We also encourage you to comment and join the discussion here. And for more insight into The Opposite of Everyone, including a movie casting of the characters, skip on over to Traveling With T.
Foster care/lost children
Kai and Paula
Chapter 5 starts with the line “My mother and I do our time.” Paula is referring to her time in foster care and her mother’s in jail. It’s heartbreaking to see them separated and also get a glimpse into the world of foster care children. Paula must choose between fight or flight, and she further develops her image as a tough girl amid the mean girls in her cabin.
She and Kai do get to talk on the phone, but when Kai asks her for a favor, it only adds to Paula’s many worries. I’m not sure about other readers, but I have mixed feelings about Kai. On one hand, I feel sorry for her because she’s stuck in prison, pregnant and alone, but on the other hand, she’s made the choices that led her to become separated from her daughter and the least she could do is protect Paula as best she can now.
In Chapter 5, Paula says “An emergency is Kai locked up a hundred miles away from me. An emergency is living in these cabins full of feral children.” I have to wonder what Kai sees as the emergency. Is it being away from Paula, or does she miss Dwayne and their carefree lifestyle more?
Odd to think of myself that way, small and blind and tethered to her. In that time before memory, everything I touched was hers. I heard her voice from the inside, with no idea that she was a separate person. Back then, she had simply been the world.” – Paula, Chapter 7
Along with Paula, we do develop more sympathy for Kai as this section goes on and she sees a picture of her mother looking old and thin. And when Julian tells her a story about seeing his own mother sick and dying, she has to wonder if Kai was also frail, helpless and alone at the end. There’s not much Paula can do to make amends with Kai now, but what she can do is cobble together a family with Julian and her sister Hana — if they can find her.
Paula’s connection with Hana is tragic. Again and again, she tries to explain to Julian that Hana isn’t like him. She didn’t have family dinners around the table followed by board games or even a steady roof over her head. “You grew up with Little League and meals made off the food pyramid, but Hana comes from here, where people ditch other people, or use them, or eat them whole,” Paula tells him. But Julian wisely retorts that they can bring Hana someplace better. They could make sure she is safe, fed and cared for.
“It was the least any kid deserved,” Paula thinks. Joshilyn seems to be making a statement here about all children who are neglected, unloved, abandoned. In foster care, Paula and her friend Joya are the “Gotmamas,” because they have mothers eventually coming to rescue them. This sets them apart from so many other kids, like poor, abused Candace (who Joshilyn said on Twitter this week is her favorite character hands-down).
In her acknowledgements, Joshilyn talks about working with social worker Sarah Smith. “I sleep a little better, knowing that some of the foster kids here in Atlanta have such a loving, warm-hearted, courageous advocate on their side.” Maybe we would all sleep a little better if we learned more about the system and found some way to help those children who don’t got mamas.
Falling for Birdwine
On to a lighter subject and the mountain that is Birdwine. He has his own demons, but how can we not root for Birdwine and Paula to end up together? She finds out that Birdwine was in love with her and is taken off guard. Paula admits she doesn’t give her personal relationships with men “a lot of brain space.”
It’s not until she finds Birdwine coming off an alcoholic bender at his house that she asks herself if she was in love with him. She realizes there’s still something between them, despite her best efforts to kill it, and even gets a little jealous after seeing a picture of his ex-wife up on his computer screen. But Joshilyn isn’t ready to give us a steamy reunion just yet. “A large and toothy chunk” of Birdwine’s history smacks Paula in the face and makes her wonder what kind of person her former lover really is.
Questions to Consider:
Is Kai a good mother to Paula, or would Paula have been better off with a foster family?
Paula tells Julian in Chapter 6 that “Making a family is a dangerous business.” What does she mean by that, and how will making a family change Paula’s life?
Was Paula really in love with Birdwine, and does he fit into the family she is cobbling together?
“I was made of bone and teeth and iron blood.” – Paula, Chapter 5
“If a fella was looking for love, I was the wrong road to go down. I was the road, in fact, that was crawling with barbed wire and bears and dynamite, marked with huge signs that said THERE IS NOTHING FOR YOU HERE.” – Paula, Chapter 5
“I knew what it was to be a child, and lost. I was from that tribe.” – Paula, Chapter 5
We get a little more insight into geneticist William Ashe from Someone Else’s Love Story in Chapter 8, as Paula admits she fell for him and slept with him once back in high school. She says she helped William land the girl of his dreams in college, and the three of them ended up best friends. Anybody remember who that girl was?
Part three includes Chapters 9-13 and runs from March 8-18, when we chat with Joshilyn on Twitter from 1-2 CST.