With a delicate blend of nuance and emotional perceptiveness, The Mothers is an engrossing read that is truly hard to put down. The author, Britt Bennet (just 26 years old) penned a story about young love and a secret, set within a contemporary black community in Southern California. What struck me most impressive about Bennet’s writing was her ability to earnestly cover difficult life events such a suicide and abortion from both sides. Refreshingly, her objective is not to convince the reader to pick a character's side, but to instead look at all angles of their wounds with curiosity rather than judgement. It’s not an easy feat and her poetic prose vividly displays the swirling emotions over difficult life choices that follow us into adulthood.
“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.” - The Mothers
The novel’s main character, Nadia Turner, is only 17 when the book begins with the fresh pain of her mother’s suicide lingering over her senior year in high school, shortly before she moves out of state for college. She’s both stuck and propelling forward, as are many of the characters she leaves behind at home. Her commentary on the stickiness of life and the inability to escape the past are reoccurring themes throughout the novel. Commentary on religion, race, gender, family and unconventional friendship are weaved effortlessly into the spine of the novel through emotional perspectives and experiences. While the novel follows a story of young lovers, it is by no means a love story in any traditional sense, but that’s exactly what makes it so interesting. The book instead explores the notions of secrets and expectations; the sacrifices women are expected to make without regards for their own happiness and how in some churches, judgement and appearance can unfortunately run deeper than scripture. Many times it felt as though the author welcomed me in to listen to a private conversation (that wasn't really mine to listen to) and that made reading it all the more enthralling.
Each character's shared journeys are inherently human and unapologetically so. Bennet does not water her language down to make anyone feel comfortable, but her free-flowing words are easy to drink up regardless. Chapter after chapter, she instead writes with strength and purpose that isn't typically the standard when telling the story of a young female (although I'd argue it should be more often).
If you’re interested in reading The Mothers, I recommend you start with Bennet’s piece in Jezebel entitled “I Don’t Know What to Do with Good White People”. The essay is a great example of how the author is able to speak her truth from a place of ambivalence while vocalizing that well-meant intentions alone are not virtues to be rested upon.
Have you read The Mothers? Did you enjoy it?