THE MOTHERS is a dazzling debut about young love, a big secret in a small community and the moments that haunt us most.
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’s 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 manoeuvre and dogged by the constant, nagging question: what if they had chosen differently?
In entrancing, lyrical prose, THE MOTHERS asks whether a ‘what if’ can be more powerful than an experience itself.
I have had The Mothers sitting on my shelf ever since I read The Vanishing Half last year, and loved that novel so much that I immediately ordered Brit Bennett’s previous book. I am so glad I finally got around to reading this book. It is just as wonderful as The Vanishing Half.
Bennett is so skilled at creating characters who feel absolutely real. Nadia, Aubrey and Luke are all beautifully drawn, their flaws and intricacies teased out by the author’s bold, confident prose. In some ways, I didn’t feel quite as strongly about them as I did about some of the characters in The Vanishing Half, but the storyline in The Mothers is somehow more intimate and profound, and it left more of an impression on me.
I loved the structure of the book. The choral ‘we’ of ‘the mothers’ contrasts so well with the focus on Nadia, then Luke, then Aubrey – a really clever representation of the conflict between individualism and community. Like The Vanishing Half, we follow the characters through the years, and build up a detailed picture of their lives in a way which feels natural and real. The writing is consistently beautiful; when Bennett zooms out for reflection, she utters the most painful, delicate truths.
The themes, of absent mothers, community, trauma, friendship, are woven throughout the text with dexterity. Aubrey is such an interesting example of how Bennett explores the effects of trauma in a way which is subtle, respectful, piercing and brave. There is so much I could say about Aubrey as a character – but I will leave it to you to meet her for yourselves.
Brit Bennett is such a talented writer. Her work is full and insightful, easy to read while also packed full of wisdom and intelligence. The pace is perfectly judged, and each element is carefully crafted to add up to an entirely satisfying reading experience. I adored this book, and highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure yet.