Opposite of awful

A review of The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

Since I came across gods in Alabama a dozen or so years ago, I’ve been a fan of Joshilyn Jackson. Her writing is so enjoyable, witty and astute, her characters unconventional but winning, that I always look forward to her newest book.  The Opposite of Everyone didn’t let me down.

The narrator, Paula Vauss, is a hard-edged, biracial divorce lawyer in Atlanta, known for making the bad guys pay up. Her mother Kai, a hippie type with a penchant for Hindu mythology, named Paula ‘Kali Jai’ at birth, and wandered with her daughter from man to man, changing both their identities to fit each man she lands with. The two were incredibly close until they became estranged due to an unfortunate miscalculation by Paula’s 12-year-old self that sends her to foster care, her mother to jail and drives a wedge between them. Since then, Paula has succeeded in keeping people at arm’s length. And she tries for atonement by sending her mother support checks every month. Then, after 20 years, one is returned to her with a cryptic message from her mother written on the back. But one thing is clear from the note; Kai is dying.

At the same time, Julian, a half-brother she didn’t know she had, shows up at her office. His own PI not only found Paula, but in his file are photos of Kai with a young girl who looks exactly like Kai. There is a half-sister lost out there somewhere with their dying (or dead mother?). Julian is determined to locate his other half-sister, and Kai, if she’s still alive.

Since all Paula has is a PO Box number for her mother, she hires an investigator, Birdwine, to find Kai. Birdwine and Paula had a short term but passionate love affair, until Paula got uneasy and broke Birdwine’s heart. She’s been gradually rebuilding their professional relationship. As the threesome find, and then lose Kai’s trail, they find out more of each and transform their working relationship into something that resembles a family. 

Once again, Jackson has written a novel with a clever plot, and authentic, broken, likeable characters. While painful, the story examines race, love, the fragility of relationships, and the many permutations a family can take. This one’s a winner.