Brit Bennett’s debut novel, The Mothers is a story about love, grief and betrayal woven through a single secret that has a devastating impact on a small Southern Californian community.
Nadia Turner is seventeen year-old teenager who is about to go off to college once the summer ends. Grief-stricken by the recent suicide of her mother, she resorts to rebellious teenage acts, such as staying out late and partying hard in an unsuccessful bid to numb the pain. She soon takes up with Luke Sheppard, a former footballer player and the local pastor’s son in a typical summer teen fling. But, their no-strings, uncomplicated romance is cut short when Nadia falls pregnant. Nadia’s decision to terminate the pregnancy has repercussions for both her and Luke, for her ensuing friendship with Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, and their wider community.
In addition to the triangle that is Nadia-Luke-Aubrey, are the seemingly omnipresent ‘mothers’. These are women who ‘prayerfully’ watch over the congregants at Upper Room, the church to which Nadia and Aubrey belong, and where Luke’s father pastors. Through their narrative contribution, they provide the benefit of hindsight by reflecting on past actions, words spoken by themselves and others, asking the question of what if. What if they’d seen or said something sooner? What if Nadia and Luke had made a different decision? When this person said what they said or did what they did, could they have intervened?
At times the mothers’ narrative felt unnecessary as undoubtedly the main characters were asking themselves the same questions. But other times it was actually a good way of stepping back and seeing the drama unfold through another’s eyes. We the reader are the mothers, watching and judging the events for ourselves and drawing our own conclusions as to what really happened.
Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip.
I rather enjoyed this novel, though it took me some time to fully get into it. I blame this in part on lockdown, which at the beginning made everything hard work. But, once I got over myself, I found The Mothers was really beautifully written and captured the themes and feelings of loss and grief so effortlessly. Each of the main characters are grieving some sort of loss, whether a loved one, a career or an unwanted pregnancy. And it’s this grief or rather the inability to handle or process it in a healthy manner that drives their later decisions and motivations.
I also really liked how I ended up rooting for each of the characters no matter how flawed. There was no real villain, except perhaps Mrs Shephard, Luke’s mother, but even her acts, wrong as they were at times, are largely motivated by a desire to protect her son. Though I wasn’t a massive fan of the ending, those who’ve read the book, hit me up and we can discuss, I thought The Mothers was a great debut and I’d definitely look forward to reading other books by the same author.