In her elegant debut novel, Brit Bennett explores the concept of motherhood in its many forms, centered around a complicated friendship between two teenage girls.
Still grieving after her mother’s suicide, 17-year-old Nadia Turner develops a tenuous relationship with Luke, the local pastor’s son. Their relationship ends abruptly, leaving them with a painful secret that that will burden them both for years to come. Around this same time, Nadia befriends a quiet girl named Aubrey whose mother is out of the picture, and the two of them bond over that mutual hole in their lives.
The Mothers follows these three characters through high school, college and into adulthood, where the choices they made as teenagers will come back to haunt them.
Narrated by the collective voice of the church mothers—a group of older women who indulge in the town gossip and observe Nadia over the years—The Mothers is at its strongest a heartbreaking book about female friendship and all its complexities, from the jealousy and betrayal to the love and loyalty.
It’s also a poignant study of a modern black woman, as illustrated by thoughtful passages like this one:
“She felt the sly type of racism here, longer waits for tables, white girls who expected her to walk on the slushy part of the sidewalk, a drunk boy outside of a salsa club yelling that she was pretty for a black girl. In a way, subtle racism was worse because it made you feel crazy. You were always left wondering, was that actually racist? Had you just imagined it?”
While there were times when the pacing felt just a bit off, some of the transitions maybe too abrupt, Bennett’s debut is worthy of the early praise and hype. Nadia, Luke and Aubrey are the kind of flawed characters who you root for and can’t help but love, no matter their mistakes and failings.