Summary and book reviews of The Mothers by Brit Bennett

The Mothers

by Brit Bennett

The Mothers by Brit Bennett X
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2016, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2017, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Excerpt
The Mothers

In the darkness of the club, you could be alone with your grief. Her father had flung himself into Upper Room. He went to both services on Sunday mornings, to Wednesday night Bible study, to Thursday night choir practice although he did not sing, although practices were closed but nobody had the heart to turn him away. Her father propped his sadness on a pew, but she put her sad in places no one could see. The bartender shrugged at her fake ID and mixed her a drink and she sat in dark corners, sipping rum-and-Cokes and watching women with beat bodies spin on stage. Never the skinny, young girls—the club saved them for weekends or nights—just older women thinking about grocery lists and child care, their bodies stretched and pitted from age. Her mother would've been horrified at the thought—her in a strip club, in the light of day—but Nadia stayed, sipping the watery drinks slowly. Her third time in the club, an old black man pulled up a chair ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Key Discussion Topics

Teen identity: The main character, Nadia, is the only person in her family to go to college and one of the few from her church community to leave after high school. She is ambitious—in  part to make up for the limits her own existence imposed upon her mother—but she is also made to feel uncomfortable about how her ambition makes her different. To what degree do you think her discomfort about her ambition is just in her head, and to what degree do you think her community sees her as an outsider because of it? Why is leaving home so revolutionary for Nadia? What can her academic accomplishments give her that her home community cannot?

Racial and cultural identity: Nadia is a ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Bennett, who started work on The Mothers nine years ago when she was seventeen, walks a high-wire act: treading complicated story arcs, maturing characters and voice and tone with impressive panache. I can't wait to see this young author's career ripen and evolve and see what she comes up with next.

Believe the hype. Read this book. Be prepared to be floored.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (762 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. There's much blame to go around, and Bennett distributes it equally. But she also shows an extraordinary compassion for her flawed characters. A Greek chorus of narrating gossipy "Mothers " (as they're referred to in the text) from the local Upper Room Chapel provides further context and an extra layer to an already exquisitely developed story

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Bennett's writing is both wrenching and light. She deftly blends the complex and serious situations her characters face with innate humor and understanding in this deeply affecting coming-of-age story.

Library Journal

Starred Review. This debut novel has all the characteristics of new adult lit, with its college-age protagonists, complicated sexual relationships, and nimble story line, but making this easy categorization is selling it short. With its sophisticated, nuanced tone, it's a poignant tale of the hard decisions twentysomethings may face.

Author Blurb Angela Flournoy, author of National Book Award-finalist The Turner House
Brit Bennett is a brilliant and much-needed new voice in literature.

Author Blurb Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award-winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn
Brit Bennett is the real thing. The Mothers is a stellar novel - moving, thoughtful. Stunning. I couldn't put it down. I'm so excited to have this brilliant new voice in the world.

Author Blurb Danielle Evans, author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self
Brit Bennett's The Mothers is a brilliant exploration of friendship, desire, inheritance, the love we seek, and the love we settle for. It is the kind of book that from its first page seduces you into knowing that the heartbreak coming will be worth it.

Author Blurb Chigozie Obioma, author of The Fishermen
Brit Bennett's The Mothers is an engaging and assured debut novel of depth, and introspective power. It succeeds as a brilliant study of a modern black woman, and as a lyrical and majestic portrait of her place in society.

Author Blurb Vendela Vida, author of The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty
Conveys the complexities and challenges of young love with refreshing honesty and beautiful sentences. I cared about Brit Bennett's characters, and the choices they made, and couldn't stop reading this remarkable debut.

Reader Reviews

takingmytime

Plethora of Human Issues
A debut book that hits on a plethora of human issues - teen pregnancy, suicide, and abortion among others. It was the intertwined stories of Aubrey, Nadia, and Luke, three black teens in San Diego, and how the choices they made, the secrets they kept...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

African American Women and the Black Church

In Brit Bennett's debut novel, the mothers are the elderly African African women who devote themselves to Upper Room, the black church in town. "If we laid all our lives toes to heel, we were born before the Depression, the Civil War, even America itself," they report.

African American Women at ChurchThe mothers in the book depend on the church for much of their social and spiritual activities and in turn drive the wheels of the institution, while the congregation as a whole is lead by a male pastor. This pattern, argue many in the black community, has been the case for centuries, with women forming the majority of the congregation (66-88%) and only males being in positions of authority.

There are nine historically African American denominations in the United ...

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