A sprawling story about two sisters growing up, apart, and back together.
Jo and Bethie Kaufman may be sisters, but they don’t have much else in common. As young girls in the 1950s, Jo is a tomboy who’s uninterested in clothes while Bethie is the “pretty one” who loves to dress up. When their father dies unexpectedly, the Kaufman daughters and their mother, Sarah, suddenly have to learn how to take care of themselves at a time when women have few options. Jo, who realizes early on that she’s attracted to girls, knows that it will be difficult for her to ever truly be herself in a world that doesn’t understand her. Meanwhile, Bethie struggles with her appearance, using food to handle her difficult emotions. The names Jo and Beth aren’t all that Weiner (Hungry Heart, 2016, etc.) borrows from Little Women; she also uses a similar episodic structure to showcase important moments of the sisters’ lives as she follows them from girlhood to old age. They experience the civil rights movement, protests, sexual assault, drugs, sex, and marriage, all while dealing with their own personal demons. Although men are present in both women's lives, female relationships take center stage. Jo and Bethie are defined not by their relationships with husbands or boyfriends, but by their complex and challenging relationships with their mother, daughters, friends, lovers, and, ultimately, each other. Weiner resists giving either sister an easy, tidy ending; their sorrows are the kind that many women, especially those of their generation, have had to face. The story ends as Hillary Clinton runs for president, a poignant reminder of both the strides women have made since the 1950s and the barriers that still hold them back.
An ambitious look at how women’s roles have changed—and stayed the same—over the last 70 years.