My thesis is due in a little over a month, so I naturally keep finding new books to divvy up my attention! When Renée Amanda, founder of Book Girl Magic, picked this for her club’s October read, I immediately searched for the eBook on Libby. It was available to borrow, so that’s clearly a sign to spend my weekend reading it, right? Spoiler: I’m glad I did.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett is the story of Nadia Turner, a grieving 17-year-old who falls in love with her church Pastor’s son soon after her mother’s suicide. Spanning over the course of a decade, the novel follows their journey together and apart as they build new relationships with family, friends, and partners while wrestling with the decisions they made as teenagers. True to the title, motherhood is the central theme of the book. Bennett presents a variety of experiences of motherhood: being a mother, struggling to become one, choosing not be one, being motherless, estranged mothers, adoptive motherhood, and the various experiences of their partners.
Published in Oct. 2016 by Riverhead Books, The Mothers is Bennett’s debut novel. It was nominated for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award (2017) and made the shortlist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize in 2017.
“Well, I don’t know what you’re looking for but you ain’t gonna find it here.” Cici leaned in closer. “You know you got see-through eyes? Feels like I can see right through them. Nothin’ but sad on the other side.”
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
What I loved:
- This is heartbreaking and engaging story. Bennett’s storytelling is incredibly well done, I didn’t want to put this book down.
- Bennett utilizes an attention to detail that feels fresh and brings these characters and their environment in their Black church community to life. Some of my favorite passages were about Aubrey, who grows from being an unlikely friend of Nadia’s into a fully rounded, moving character. I particularly liked this passage of her visiting a pier outside the town, which was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times over the last two centuries:
The pier was nothing but a long piece of wood that kept crumbling until it was rebuilt, and years later, she wondered if that was the point, if sometimes the glory was in rebuilding the broken thing, not the result but the process of trying.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
- One aspect that pleasantly surprised me was how it offers a very nuanced discussion on abortion. Whereas many books use very black and white terms to describe this topic, The Mothers provides an array of reactions and motives that realistically blur those lines.
- Bennett’s character development of Luke, a man seemingly stuck in a loop who keeps trying to get his sh*t together, was a refreshing take on masculinity.
- Can we talk about that cover? Dang!
What I feel picky about:
Since so many of the scenes are full of description, perspective, and emotion, sometimes what felt like pivotal, confrontational scenes were diminished into “she then asked him about [this], and he told her [this].” These moments, usually when Nadia and her father discussed her mother, struck me as very “tell” instead of “show.” I wanted to hear the conversation and get a better understanding of her parents’ relationship. But the more I think about it, the more I actually liked how Bennett preferred to dive into the intimate vignettes surrounding these moments instead of relying on the predictable scenes that her narrative provides. Yikes, now I want to move this point up to something I loved. Literature is a shifting thing, guys.
My Short Review:
In The Mothers, Bennett presents a variety of experiences of motherhood: being a mother, struggling to become one, choosing not be one, being motherless, estranged mothers, adoptive motherhood, and the various experiences of their partners. Filled with engaging prose, I swallowed this book whole in a weekend.
See my whole review is on my blog, Booked Club.