The Mothers by Brit Bennett

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Source: Literary Box Subscription rating

A dazzling debut novel from an exciting new voice, The Mothers is a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community—and the things that ultimately haunt us most. 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 Mothers asks 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 weight of what has been lost is always heavier than what remains.”

A beautiful book with a real soul at its center, The Mothers is unlike anything I've read before. It starts with a teenager recovering from the loss of her mother's suicide, who then does the desperate and ends her own baby's life through an abortion. The book is surprisingly layered as it touches upon the girl's life as she grows up, the father's life as he grows and mourns for his child and his youth, and the best friend who they ultimately kept in the dark for so long. Above this its about growth and not living up to potential. Its about acceptance but grief overshadowing everything forever. Its about moving on but staying behind.

I read so many dramas where cheap gimmicks are used for heartstring tugs, but this isn't it. This is realism and soul and heart. It doesn't shy away from giving the main character selfish traits that touch everything she touches. It doesn't shy away from the grim realities of her mourning father, or the underachievements of Lucas, who wished to be so much more. It doesn't save unrealistic purity for a pure-hearted friend. Really it's life, and life is unfair and unkind and doesn't discriminate.

That said, it's not just a depressing ride, but a human character study. There is a degree and form of happiness in the living of their lives. They must live with the past and how it haunts but that doesn't mean the same decision wouldn't have been made again.

Beautifully written and powerfully prosed, the story is unique again when it has older mothers and women of the church, the 'Upper Room' begin sections with musings and reflections. They are in a way biddy bodies who gossip and wonder, but they are also wise and kind and filled with wonder of life even though a lot of it has passed them by. The book isn't just about two teenagers kids and their choices - it's about adults and life and growth and self-reflection.

I didn't care much for the main character because her selfishness in a few situations was repulsive, but I liked the author painting a picture of a realistic person. People like that exist everywhere, so it's good to see their real stories. I liked how the author later acknowledges grief men feel if their children are killed through abortion too, and it wasn't just shied over and made to be only about women power, hear me roar kind of stuff. He wasn't made to be blameless in all certainly, but he was made realistic too and nothing would work out better than that.

Recommended for everyone because it makes you think, it makes you wonder, and it makes you feel - but genuinely feel, not cheesy and contrived dramas with predictable formulas that only recycle the tried and true that brings forth emotional mimicking instead of genuine emotional living.

An added touch of fun was I read this through a book box subscription. Literary Subscription box sent me this and two other books for review, as well as goodies inside. The author included tons of stickies explaining different names, places, and inspirations. It made it feel like I was reading the book while randomly calling up the author to chat with them about random things when I read them.

   Book Quotes:

“Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip."

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