Written by Brit Bennett
Audiobook read by Adenrele Ojo
Published by Penguin on October 11th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett's mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret.
"All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season."
It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother's recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor's son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it's not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.
In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothersasks whether a "what if" can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.
THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett: Mothers and Daughters
- What’s it about? The Mothers by Brit Bennett is a debut novel about mothers and daughters and community. “The Mothers”–the elderly women who form the backbone of Upper Room Chapel in Oceanside, California–represent the community. Their voices frame the story of two young women navigating the world after mother loss.The Mothers is about secrets–keeping them and sharing them–and how either course of action impacts relationships. It’s a story of the choices women face when motherhood arrives. And so it’s about CHOICE—-the debate over a woman’s right to it and the personal impact of making it.
- Why did I read it? The Mothers was one of 2016’s most buzzy fiction debuts. That caught my attention, as did the Southern California setting. The novel’s premise is nothing too unusual for literary fiction. However, I haven’t often seen it filtered through a Black perspective, and I was curious. (That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening, of course, which is why I’ve been working on broadening my reading.)
THE MOTHERS And the Choices
- What worked for me? Bennett shifts the narrative perspectives between three characters over the course of a decade.
Nadia Turner remains haunted by the choice she made at 17 to remain on her college-bound path out of Oceanside. Meanwhile, her friend Aubrey Evans struggles to feel rooted in their church community and her relationship with Luke Sheppard, the pastor’s son. And Luke and Nadia have a history they’d both rather keep quiet. I was more invested in the women, but I was impressed by how well Bennett develops all of them. She has a good ear for dialogue and a strong feel for the emotional complexities between women.
I also appreciated how The Mothers filters some big issues–loyalty, morality, questions of privilege and class–through one Black church community.
- What wasn’t so great? I read The Mothers in audio, and while I thought Adenrele Ojo’s narration was fine, nothing about the performance really stood out for me. Having said that, I wouldn’t have minded if the book was longer–I’d have liked more of this story!
- Recommended? Yes! And not just by me:
THE MOTHERS: Book Thoughts From Other Places
From Vogue: “The Mothers begins with Nadia’s abortion, an experience often missing from consideration in our culture’s stories about women or shorthanded as a tragic plot point. Here, it’s given the emotional resonance it deserves, setting the scene for a book about growing up amid absences, both emotional and cultural. At the same time, it demolishes the stereotype of absentee African-American fathers; Nadia’s father is both present and, like all of the novel’s characters, complexly human. The novel finds its focus in the unlikely friendship that develops between Nadia and another motherless girl, Aubrey, the sweet to Nadia’s spiky—and in the many ways in which women nurture, and sometimes betray, one another.”
From The Washington Post: “Bennett doesn’t ignore the broader racial situation in the United States. Her characters talk about the pain of hoping an unborn baby is a girl. ‘Black boys are target practice,’ one says. ‘At least black girls got a chance.’ They also acknowledge the problems in their community, including drugs, alcohol and domestic abuse. Some of the most simultaneously funny and painful sections involve the church mothers talking about men, and in those conversations we see resignation and rage about how societal ills have poisoned gender roles. The genius of The Mothers is how Bennett uses those feelings in service to a story that could take place in any part of American society.”
In the darkness of the club, you could be alone with your grief. Her father had flung himself into Upper Room. He went to both services on Sunday mornings, to Wednesday night Bible study, to Thursday night choir practice although he did not sing, although practices were closed but nobody had the heart to turn him away. Her father propped his sadness on a pew, but she put her sad in places no one could see.
The bartender shrugged at her fake ID and mixed her a drink and she sat in dark corners, sipping rum-and-Cokes and watching women with beat bodies spin on stage. Never the skinny, young girls—the club saved them for weekends or nights—just older women thinking about grocery lists and child care, their bodies stretched and pitted from age. Her mother would’ve been horrified at the thought—her in a strip club, in the light of day—but Nadia stayed, sipping the watery drinks slowly.