58 pages 1 hour read

Jennifer Weiner

Mrs. Everything

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


Mrs. Everything is a bestselling women’s fiction novel by Jennifer Weiner published in 2019. This “Best Book of Summer” pick traces the lives of two Jewish sisters, Jo and Bethie, who are polar opposites, and their relationship with their mother, Sarah, and Jo’s future daughters. The book follows Jo and Bethie from their childhood in the 1950s to present day (2022), chronicling their struggles to find authentic identities and joy. Though lesbian Jo is viewed as unnatural by Sarah growing up, she falls in love with a fellow college women’s rights activist named Shelley. But Shelley chooses the traditional route and marries a man. Jo gives into societal pressures and marries Dave, a charming man, and has three daughters, Kim, Missy, and Lila. While Jo starts her family, perfectionist and proper Bethie falls into drugs in the ’60s and is raped at an outdoor concert. Jo helps Bethie through her trauma. Bethie is born again and marries Harold, a kind Black man, another taboo for the time. Over the years, after Dave cheats on her and they divorce, Jo returns to her true sexuality and finds Shelley, also divorced. They spend the last years of Jo’s life together. Before Jo passes away from breast cancer, she and Bethie take care of Jo’s daughters as they each face women’s struggles.

This study guide refers to the 2019 Kindle ebook edition published by Washington Square Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

Content Warning: Mrs. Everything includes depictions of sexual abuse of a child, sexual violence, and drug use. Readers who find these topics difficult can find information and support from the following organizations:

Readers who fear their sexuality makes them unsafe can find support at the Trevor Project. The National Association of School Psychologists offers a comprehensive list of other supportive organizations.

Plot Summary

Jo and Bethie Kaufman grow up in the 1950s in Detroit, Michigan. Their Jewish parents, tenderhearted Ken and no-nonsense Sarah, try to raise proper young ladies. Though Sarah pushes Jo into conforming to traditional female roles, such as wearing dresses, cooking, and avoiding roughhousing like sports, Jo is a wild “tomboy.” Ken encourages Jo’s individuality, such as playing sports with her best friend, a Black girl named Frieda. Though Sarah admonishes Jo often and doesn’t understand her, Ken dotes on Jo and compliments her talents, such as her basketball skills and fierceness in fighting for equal rights. Jo grows into teenage years and falls in love with her best friend, Lynnette. Bethie plays the part of the perfect daughter and adores traditional female roles. She cooks, sews, sings, and performs in school plays, all of which please her mother. She has a secret crush on Harold, a Black boy who is her cohort as a lead in a play in high school. Bethie embraces traditional femininity, but Jo is against traditional female roles and spends all her time with Lynnette, who loves Jo but sees their relationship as more of an experiment.

After Ken dies from a sudden heart attack, Jo takes over the tasks related to his funeral. The women miss Ken terribly. Needing more income, Sarah goes to work at a local department store. Jo makes money teaching as a camp counselor. Bethie babysits for cash at their uncle Mel’s home. Uncle Mel, who is the girls’ father’s brother, sexually abuses Bethie, and she gains weight due to this stress. Bethie deals with the assault alone since Sarah is always working and Jo is away at camp. When Jo returns, Bethie finally tells what happened to her. Jo is furious and blackmails Uncle Mel into giving them the money he owed his brother Ken in exchange for their not telling anyone, including his wife, about assaulting Bethie.

In college, Jo meets Shelley, a wealthy and feisty equal rights activist who takes a special interest in Jo. Though she’s tried to hide her lesbian sexuality, Shelley kisses Jo. They fall deeply in love, planning a trip together across the world after graduation. Though Sarah calls Jo unnatural and believes she has something wrong with her, Jo follows her heart and loves Shelley passionately. Shelley keeps her engagement to a boy named Dennis secret until Jo finds out. Furious, she leaves Shelley.

Meanwhile, Bethie, who is only a year younger than Jo, attends the same college but gets involved in drugs. She dates Devon, a drug dealer who gives her uppers, downers, diet pills, acid, and more. Bethie maintains a C average and continues experimenting with drugs. When she, Devon, and their friends take a road trip to an outdoor music festival, Bethie has a bad trip and is raped by four boys in a field. Devon doesn’t understand the crime and breaks up with Bethie. She ends up with an STI and pregnancy. Jo returns home from her travels abroad to save Bethie. She gets information about an illegal abortion doctor from Shelley, with the condition that she must be a bridesmaid in Shelley’s wedding. Bethie is left feeling lost after her abortion and trauma, so she decides to travel the world, earning money as a drug dealer and singer.

At Shelley’s wedding, Jo meets Dave, a charming, witty man who makes her laugh. She’s so tired of fighting against the traditional grain that she convinces herself she could love a man. After six months, Dave proposes, and Jo accepts. Sarah is ecstatic that her daughter is finally following the destined path and marrying a nice Jewish man instead of getting involved with women. Bethie is traveling and misses the wedding. At first, Jo and Dave have a lovely marriage, and Jo gives birth to two daughters, Kim and Missy. Eventually, Jo and Dave start to lose connection. Bethie, still a hippie, arrives back in town and tells Jo she needs to be true to herself because she knows Jo isn’t happy and is truly a lesbian. They have a huge fight. Jo goes back home, prepared to leave Dave, but he announces he has bankrupted them. She agrees to stay and clean up their financial mess. They have a third daughter, Lila.

Years later, with Bethie living on a women’s commune in Atlanta, and Jo in Connecticut, Dave has an affair with Jo’s friend Nonie. Though sad for her daughters, Jo is relieved she has a way out at last. After Dave and Nonie steal Jo’s fitness-class routine and make a video (copying Jo’s video), Jo wins a lawsuit against Dave and Nonie, receiving plenty of money from the case to restart her life. With Bethie and her husband, Harold (with whom she reconnected after years apart), taking care of Lila in Atlanta, Jo drives to Colorado to find Shelley. Shelley, who is also divorced, never stopped hoping for Jo to return to her. They have wonderful, full years of traveling together and making love, though it’s an adjustment for Jo’s family to accept Shelley.

While Bethie starts a hugely successful jam business and converts the commune to a popular bed-and-breakfast, Jo spends her time with Shelley and her grandchildren. Jo’s daughters have grown up. Kim, a lawyer, got married. Missy works in publishing, and Lila struggles to hold a job. Jo thinks she failed them all. After Jo’s breast cancer diagnosis, her dysfunctional family becomes closer. She beats cancer the first time, but 10 years later, she has another cancer struggle. Her daughters—divorced Kim, who couldn’t be the stay-at-home mom her husband wanted; workaholic Missy, who defended her sexually harassing editor boss; and wild Lila, who has traveled the world and surprises Jo by stating she’s pregnant—come to visit her and get final advice. Jo imparts her feminist wisdom, with advice on motherhood and on just doing their best rather than feeling guilty. She gives her daughters, Bethie, Harold, and Shelley all her love before she passes away, with the hope that they’ve made progress for women and that her girls will continue the fight.

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