Introduced exotic species encounter a wide range of non-coevolved enemies and competitors in their new range. Evolutionary novelty is a key aspect of these interactions, but who benefits from novelty: the exotic species or their new antagonists? Paradoxically, the novelty argument has been used to explain both the release from and the suppression by natural enemies. We argue that this paradox can be solved by considering underlying interaction mechanisms. Using plant defenses as a model, we argue that mismatches between plant and enemy interaction traits can enhance plant invasiveness in the case of toxin-based defenses, whereas invasiveness is counteracted by mismatches in recognition-based defenses and selective foraging of generalist herbivores on plants with rare toxins. We propose that a mechanistic understanding of ecological mismatches can help to explain and predict when evolutionary novelty will enhance or suppress exotic plant invasiveness. This knowledge may also enhance our understanding of plant abundance following range expansion, or during species replacements along successional stages.