Overall rating: 5/5
Genre: Bildungsroman, literary fiction
Read if you loved: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Conjure Women by Afia Atakora, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Content warnings: Abortion, infertility, domestic abuse, r*pe (brief), suicide (brief), islamophobia (brief)
17-year old Nadia Turner is reeling from the unexpected loss of her mother. Eager to dim the pain, she finds solace in the company of Luke Sheppard, the pastor’s son, but what was meant to be a casual summer fling turns into an unexpected pregnancy and a hushed abortion, a decision that impacts both of their lives in more ways than they could have imagined. As Nadia goes on to pursue her dreams, leaving behind Luke and her best friend Aubrey, it quickly becomes evident that the ghosts of their past transcend both time and distance.
How does she do it? Brit Bennett takes the mundane and finds its beauty, encapsulating it in lyrical prose that transforms or at least elevates your perspective. Her ability to capture the ebb and flow of complex relationships through the passage of time is remarkable. I was invested in every single sentence, and could not stop highlighting lines while reading. The writing is so beautiful and I cannot repeat that enough. I loved the characters, especially Nadia and Aubrey, and I can’t remember the last time I felt equal compassion for two imperfect individuals who hurt each other. That’s how real they felt, how fleshed out their emotions and backstories were, and how compellingly Bennett presents them to readers. The story’s perspective is reminiscent of a Greek chorus, with the Church mothers stepping in as an omniscient, collective narrator at the beginning of each chapter. It is a clever tactic, one that infuses the story with this inviting, warm voice, and it made me feel like a part of the community’s intimate dialogue. The plot itself is simple – the power of this book lies in the way it is told.
The Mothers is definitely a slower read – it is quite short so I still got through it fairly quickly but the stream of consciousness style of writing certainly takes time to settle into. The more important warning I would issue is around the content – a lot of this book centers around Luke and Nadia’s reflections on her abortion, and how that sticks with them throughout the years. It’s not clean – it’s very messy, and if you have certain feelings around the topic, it could be difficult to read. I have seen some people say that they think this book reads as an anti-abortion piece but I have to disagree (for the record, I am pro-choice). It goes beyond the socio-political binary and delves into the very real emotions surrounding the grey area, tied specifically to each character’s background, and I thought that was done very well.
If I had to choose, I still prefer The Vanishing Half, but this is a close second. I can confidently say that Brit Bennett is an auto-buy author for me, and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next. Her writing just speaks to me in a way few books do. Have you read either The Vanishing Half or The Mothers? What did you think?