STARRED REVIEW
October 2016

The meaning of motherlessness

By Jennifer Gilmore
It may be no coincidence that the female protagonists of Brit Bennett’s remarkable debut are 17 at the start of the story: This was Bennett’s age when she first began writing The Mothers. Now, after nearly a decade of work, Bennett has completed a mature and moving masterpiece about the indelible bond between mothers and daughters.
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BookPage Top Pick in Fiction, October 2016

It may be no coincidence that the female protagonists of Brit Bennett’s remarkable debut are 17 at the start of the story: This was Bennett’s age when she first began writing The Mothers. Now, after nearly a decade of work, Bennett has completed a mature and moving masterpiece about the indelible bond between mothers and daughters and what it means for motherless girls to grow into women.

We meet Nadia Turner during her senior year of high school. It should be a time of excitement and anticipation, but Nadia is reeling from her mother’s recent suicide. She attempts to dull her pain through various acts of rebellion, including a romance with the pastor’s son, Luke. Their fling turns serious, however, when Nadia discovers she is pregnant, and their decision about how to handle her condition will shape the lives of Luke, Nadia and her religious best friend, Aubrey, in ways none of them can imagine. As the years pass, despite their collective efforts to move on, Nadia’s secret forms an inescapable anchor to the past. The aftershocks of her choice—and the nagging question of what might have been—continue to haunt the trio, threatening to unravel their friendship and shake the foundations of their tight-knit black community in Southern California.

Sharply observed and written in soul-searing prose, The Mothers is a powerful first novel that isn’t afraid to tackle tough issues, taking a hard look at family, friendship, grief and growing up. In a de facto Greek chorus, the united voice of the elderly church mothers in the community who have seen it all narrate the proceedings, punctuating events with their wise and wistful insights. Bennett’s writing is ripe with emotion and empathy, but she exhibits impressive restraint, never veering into melodrama. Moreover, her inspired juxtaposition of Nadia and Audrey—how their mothers have each wounded them in different but equally damaging ways, how they attempt to make themselves whole and compensate for their losses, how they each choose to emulate or reject their mothers in turn—is fascinating, and perfect fodder for lively book club discussions. Filled with compassionate storytelling and unforgettable characters, The Mothers is a provocative introduction to a talented new author.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with Brit Bennett about The Mothers.

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The Mothers

The Mothers

By Jennifer Gilmore
Scribner
ISBN 9781451697254

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