By Britt Bennett
Nadia Turner is seventeen years old and six months out from the death of her mother to suicide. Struggling with all of the overwhelming emotions that come from a suicide of a family member, she is simultaneously grappling with her first love. Luke Sheppard is the son of the pastor of Upper Room, the Turner family church. When Nadia becomes pregnant with his child the summer before she leaves for college, she and Luke will both make choices that will haunt all of those close to them for the rest of their lives. As the title would suggest, Brit Bennett’s debut novel touches on all aspects of motherhood and the ability for individuals to assume a maternal role, however briefly. The novel explores the heartbreaking ways that the absence of a mother can affect characters and what it really means to be “unpregnant.”
Bennett writes beautiful prose. The pages are full of the quotable, stick-with-you, lyrical sentences that craft a memorable story. At the beginning of the novel, the Mothers, a Greek chorus of women from Upper Room, tell readers “all good secrets have a taste before you tell them.” Bennett allows her readers the chance to become both a mother and a Mother for the duration of the book as we watch Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey grow, develop, and navigate life, love, loss, and betrayal. The Mothers narrative ebbs and flows throughout the novel, coming back in just when the reader begins to get comfortable in the account of one of the three main characters, offering an outsider’s perspective to the inner turmoils. Having a collective voice guide the narration was a refreshing strategy. However, readers get a sometimes too heavy-handed lesson on the the power of petty gossip hiding behind good intentions. These chapters narrated by the Mothers became a bit redundant in their message. The way any true gossip makes its way around a small group, once you’ve heard something enough times, it becomes an annoyance and off-putting.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, devouring it in three sittings over two days. This was quite an impressive debut novel from such a young author and I truly admire her gift with words. The Mothers isn’t Bennett’s first piece of published writing. In 2014 she received a lot of attention, some good, some bad, for an article that she penned for Jezebel entitled “I Don’t Know What to Do With Good White People.” The article offers Bennett’s perspective on the current state of young Black men being killed while in police custody and how White America reacts to these ever-increasing headlines. Adding a personal layer to the article, Bennett writes on the time that her father was himself detained by police. I will also link you to a worthwhile New York Times article on Bennett and her years-long process of writing The Mothers. According to this NYT article from October 2016, fans of Bennett have something to look forward to as “Ms. Bennett is focused on her next novel, about two sisters in Louisiana who are separated.”