‘The Opposite of Everyone’ Readalong – Part One
We’ve reached the end of part one of our readalong for Joshilyn Jackson’s The Opposite of Everyone. If you haven’t finished the first four chapters, there’s still plenty of time to catch up! We’ll be discussing these notes and the themes in part one on Twitter during Literary Friday and all 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 character guide and additional quotes, skip on over to Traveling With T.
Reader Belinda Guerette (@dogwoodflower66) tweeted “Just when you think your mother is finished affecting you!” in relation to our readalong earlier this week. She hit the nail on the head for this book. Does Paula Vauss have mother issues or what, and who can blame her?
In the second sentence of the book, Joshilyn writes “her cord was wrapped tight around my neck.” Even though Paula and her mother, Kai, have been estranged for 15 years, Kai’s influence on her daughter remains strong. Paula sends her a check every month in an effort to pay off a debt of guilt, and a cryptic note from her mother in response sends Paula into a tailspin.
Paula does have some wonderful memories of her mother and her childhood, but as readers we can see that it was less than idyllic. Kai introduces Paula as her little sister half the time, their living conditions often border on homeless, and drugs are everywhere. No wonder Paula wanted out of that lifestyle.
Her “murky racial origin” only makes life harder and after surviving a stint in foster care, it’s no wonder Paula grows up to become a tough as nails divorce attorney. She finds sanctuary in Birdwine — who we predict will be everyone’s favorite character — and the promise of a family in long-lost brother Julian, who shows up at her office one day.
Originally named “Ganesha,” for the god of luck and fortune from Kai’s bedtime stories, Julian represents hope and hunger for human connection. Those of you who’ve read Joshilyn’s previous novels know she’s a master at storytelling and often incorporates folk art and tall tales into her work. In this novel, she takes that gift to another level by having Kai tell stories of “Old South folklore dipped in Hindu poetry and god tales.”
The larger message is that we all have our own stories — some true, some not — that make up the essence of who we are. Paula struggles to untangle her story from the one Kai has crafted for her, “to separate what she says from what I see. Impossible. My story is a Frankenstein’s monster of stolen parts …”
Paula’s birth name is “Kali Jai,” after another god who “destroys only to renew, to restore justice.” This god brings fresh starts, and that’s exactly what Paula needs after carrying around such a heavy burden of guilt all these years. She realizes that Julien’s existence shifts her own personal history, and meeting him causes her to re-examine every story she’s told herself.
Read on to part two (chapters 5-8) to find out if Paula can really make a fresh start with the help of Julien, Birdwine and one more life-changing character still to come.
Questions to Consider:
What does the title The Opposite of Everyone mean?
How have decisions your mother made affected the person you are today?
Should Paula be held responsible for calling 911 as a child or should Kai have forgiven her?
What does it mean to be a family, and how are family bonds formed and broken?
Paula vividly recalls Kai’s bedtime stories. Do you remember stories your family told, or do you tell stories to your own children/nieces/nephews?
“My mother invoked Kali on the black and bloody soil of the American South, and she didn’t get renewal, hope, or springtime. She got me.” – Paula, Chapter 1
“Surely there was a pill that could stop little pieces of dead mother from manifesting during work hours.” – Paula, Chapter 2
“I was doing endless pro bono hours for young, nonviolent female criminals with bad boyfriends, as if I were the patron saint of dumbass girls. – Paula, Chapter 3
For the JJ fans:
Who thought Paula’s geneticist friend William sounded familiar? We have a suspicion that he’s the same William Ashe from Joshilyn’s last book Someone Else’s Love Story. Hopefully Joshilyn can confirm this during our Twitter chat with her on March 18.