REVIEW: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

I thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Mothers” as it brought to mind the writing style of one of my favorite authors, Susan Straight. There were times in Bennett’s novel that it seemed she was almost channeling Straight with beautiful heartfelt sentences streaming from the conscious of her characters.

“The Mothers” is her first novel and was apparently started when she was 17 years old – the same age as the main character of the book, Nadia Turner. The reader can grow up with Nadia as she reels from the death of her mother, deals with the grief of her father and desperately tries to find a way out from under it all. The story has so many secrets that to reveal any of them would be a shame and lessen the joy of any future readers. Suffice to say she is a teenager – she doesn’t always make the wisest choices, people get hurt, herself included.

A group of women appropriately called, the mothers, narrate the story every few chapters, filling in a little more background and rounding the characters out. Think the witches of MacBeth or the Furies of Greek mythology. They reveal secret after secret, judging every move of the characters.

At its heart the novel is about growing up, but it also deals with hot button issues of our time. The controversial choice most focused on in the story has devastating consequences. In another topical section, a character says he wouldn’t want a son – for a black man to have a son is to have a child with a target on his back. These are headline issues that draw fury on all sides, but there is no fury while reading Bennett’s novel. More musing about seeing life from inside them, thinking and feeling as the characters do. Her writing is that good – you become the characters as you read and it happens slowly with the characters becoming more complex, more nuanced so it’s almost more of a melding. This is why I read, to absorb someone else’s view of the world. For me, that’s what books should do – open your eyes and your mind to worlds other than your own, stretch you, make you a better person.

The three main characters’ choices can seem tragic and leave you shaking your head or wondering, “why?” but they stay with you long after you’ve finished the book. I find myself wanting to mother them and make everything okay for them or at least wanting to tell them that it may seem hopeless but life has a way of working out and always moving forward. The ending makes me think the writer wanted to do the same.

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