By Danielle Schapaugh
Not often will you find a witty, southern gothic, heartfelt, fiercely-loving, mystery story featuring Hindu mythology, but that’s just what Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel “The Opposite of Everyone” has to offer.
Jackson is one of my favorite writers, always surprising readers with plot twists and engaging us with the kind of irreverent humor it takes to overcome hardship. Her characters are authentic and original, and if you like to get wrapped up in a good story, she is a perfect author for you to explore.
“The Opposite of Everyone,” published in 2016, is the story of Paula Vauss, a smart and smart-mouthed divorce attorney who transformed herself after getting her gypsy-spirited mother arrested and imprisoned. Paula was only ten at the time and she was left to finish growing up in foster care with a new identity shaped by regret. Her emotional armor expresses itself as sarcasm and outlandish behavior, but never does she seem crass or uncaring. She’s someone you’ll want to meet. Paula’s mother has many secrets, but her love for her daughter and her unique approach to life and storytelling leave a deep imprint.
Then one day, her mother’s most treasured secret arrives on Paula’s doorstep and she is forced to crack open her armor to search for clues to her past and discover her mother’s whereabouts. This touching story has sharp edges, strong bonds, and a big heart. Paula is actually one of the minor characters from one of Jackson’s earlier novels “Someone Else’s Love Story,” which brings me to my next recommendation.
“Someone Else’s Love Story” is focused on Shandi Pierce and William Ashe. Shandi is a young woman trying to raise a three-year-old genius, finish college, and keep her complicated life from jumping the rails—when she falls for William, an older man she meets at a gas station hold-up. As funny and “meet cute” as that sounds, this touching story is full of heartbreak, loss, and forgiveness, as well as humor.
None of Jackson’s characters is a flat stereotype, and that might be what I like most about her work. William Ashe, the hot, older-guy-hero Shandi falls for in “Someone Else’s Love Story,” is not just a good looking guy. William is a genetic scientist with Asperger’s. With the help of his best friend from high school (Paula Vauss from “The Opposite of Everyone”) he has learned to adjust. The chapters told from his perspective are full of the mental calculations he performs in order to read social situations, and they are never boring.
Jackson cares about her characters, and never does them the disservice of making even the minor players one-dimensional. In fact, she has another pair of novels that swap characters, and I think you will be interested to read them. Just between us, you should start with these if you are new to Jackson’s work.
The book that made me fall in love with Joshilyn Jackson’s writing is actually her very first novel, “Gods in Alabama.” This is a whopper of a story full of southern charm, grit, and sincerity.
The tale begins with pressure. Arlene Fleet vowed never to return to Alabama, in fact, she made a deal with God about it. If He kept that dead body hidden, she would never again set foot in her hometown, never again see her family, and never again do the things that landed her in the predicament in the first place. Arlene goes about living a good life in Chicago, but unfortunately, neither party is able to hold up their end of the bargain.
Arlene’s family begs her to return. Her long-time boyfriend demands to meet her family. Then Miss Rose Mae Lolly, who happens to be the former girlfriend of the dead body, shows up at Arlene’s doorstep looking for her lost love.
When you’ve finished “Gods in Alabama,” it’s time to pick up “Backseat Saints” and learn about the life of Miss Rose Mae Lolly. Rose is a hero in her own right, and Jackson will also show you another side of the dead quarterback. She proves, once again, that humans are more complicated and fascinating than we like to assume.
I can’t say enough about Joshilyn Jackson and I want to sum up my esteem for her saying, she’s just a great storyteller and I think you should start exploring her books immediately. Look for her books on the first floor of the Manhattan Public Library in the fiction section or find them at your local bookstore.