Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.
But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?
In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?
Book Club Questions for Mrs. Everything
- The story starts in 2015 and we find out the character Jo’s cancer has returned. She becomes worried that she doesn’t have enough time to “make it right” with the key women in her life. Why do you think the author Jennifer Weiner decided to start the novel this way? How did it set the stage for what was to come?
- Part one of the story focuses on Jo and Bethie’s transition from children to teenagers to young adults during the ’50s and ’60s. Their mother, Sarah, is very traditional and doesn’t understand Jo at all. What stuck out to you the most about this era and Sarah’s perspective of what a women’s role is? How did both Jo and Bethie differ from Sarah’s expectations?
- Some very impactful things happen to both sisters: their father passes away, Jo realizes her sexuality and explores it with her friend Lynnette and Bethie is horribly assaulted by her uncle. Let’s talk about how each of these events changed the two sisters for good.
- How would have things been different for Jo if she was coming of age now compared to the ’50s and ’60s?
- Part two explores how Jo and Bethie both go to the University of Michigan and have very different experiences. Why do you think Bethie was drawn to Dev? Were you hoping she would leave Dev and get with Harold?
- In these sections, there’s plenty of vivid details of life in the ’60s. While there’s a tendency to glamorize the era of drugs, sex and rock & and roll, the author shows the bad that came with that, too. For instance, the impact of drugs on Bethie. What were you impressions of this era and the impact on people like Bethie?
- One of the hardest scenes to read is Bethie’s assault, her pregnancy and the abortion. One of the most tragic aspects is the fact that Bethie blames herself—and those around her are not much help—with even Jo throwing some blame Bethie’s way. Why do you think society tries to blame the women in this situation? Do you think it would have been different for Bethie today? Why or why not?
- Jo experiences her first love in college with Shelley. Let’s discuss this relationship. Did you suspect that Shelley was hiding something from Jo all along? How would have things turned out differently if they had gone on the trip together? Do you think they could have made it work or do you think their relationship was doomed to fail for that era?
- Let’s discuss why Jo decided to settle for Dave.
- Jo returns home instantly from her trip when she gets notice that her sister is in crisis. Let’s talk about how this turned into such an impactful event for the sisters—and how it eventually leads Jo to blame Bethie for her next choices (becoming a wife and mother).
- Part three covers the ’70s and focuses on Bethie relationships with drugs and men. Let’s discuss how her “rebirth” at the Blue Hill Farm helped her let go of her past.
- What did you think about the path Jo took as wife and mother? Do you think part of it was that she trying to earn her mother’s respect and love?
- The relationship between the sisters during this era is rocky. Why do you think it was so strained? In what ways did they both hurt each other but also help each other grow?
- In a book where there’s plenty of sad events—let’s talk about Bethie and Harold’s sweet romance!
- Part four covers the ’80s where Jo and Dave finally go their separate ways. What else stuck out to you about this section?
- Part five covers the ’90s and we learn about Jo’s complicated relationship with her daughter Lila. Why do you think this relationship was strained? In what ways did Jo treat Lilia like her mother (Sarah) treated her? In what ways was Lila similar to Bethie?
- Let’s talk about Jo and Shelley finally coming back together. Why was this the right time for the two of them?
- Part six focuses on 2006 and beyond. Why do you think Lila treated her mother’s relationship with Shelley with disdain?
- Let’s talk about the Thanksgiving dinner that goes horribly wrong between sisters and mother and daughter.
- What did you think about the ending?
- What did the title Mrs. Everything mean in the context of this story?
- The story’s synopsis poses this question: How should a woman be in the world? Let’s each answer this.
What to Read Next
Here are some more thought-provoking reads, along with book club questions!
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting.
Lina is a homemaker in suburban Indiana and she’s in a passionless marriage. She then embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming and transforms her life. Sloane is a glamorous entrepreneur in the northeast. She’s married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. Maggie is a high school student in North Dakota and begins a relationship with her English teacher. This will have consequences for them both—and the community.
Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo (to get to know Lisa more check out my author interview with her here) has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is a deep nonfiction portrait of desire.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a compelling and heartfelt story about the rise of a ’70s rock band and their infamous breakup. The following book club questions will have spoilers so if you haven’t read the book yet, check out my preview and review first.
The story is about the fictional iconic band, Daisy Jones & The Six. Their album Aurora came to define the rock ‘n’ roll era of the late ’70s and an entire generation of girls wanted to be Daisy. But no one knows the reason behind the group’s split on the night of their final concert at Chicago Stadium on July 12, 1979…until now
Feel free to discuss Mrs. Everything below!