Being a sucker for book design, I was very pleased when a copy of The Mothers landed on my desk. Waxy cover, amazing colours, a typeface you kind of want to eat. It’s bold and stunning, much like, I was told by the publisher, the story itself. When you hear a publisher talk so passionately about a book they’re excited about, you can’t help but be a little excited yourself, and The Mothers had my interest piqued from the word go. Written by 25 year-old Brit Bennett, it’s a story of secrets, race, religion and love. It’s honest and it’s entrancing and within the first few pages you’re completely sucked in. It’s the kind of book you miss your stop for, or burn toast for.
The story is set within a black community in a Southern Californian town. 17 year-old Nadia Turner is grieving for her mother who recently committed suicide. Feeling like a pariah amongst her friends, she starts hanging around with a local pastor’s son, Luke, a former football star with a nasty leg injury who now waits tables at a local diner. Their relationship begins as a welcome escape and ends with a secret abortion that fundamentally changes both of them.
After the abortion Nadia goes off the rails and is sent to work at the church where Luke’s father is pastor, under the guidance of his disapproving mother. It’s here she meets Aubrey, an outsider with secrets of her own. Their friendship continues right into adulthood but Aubrey still doesn’t know about the abortion until something happens that makes it impossible for Nadia and Luke to keep it to themselves.
At points the story is narrated by a chorus of “Mothers”, old ladies from the church who judge the young by their traditional standards. You develop a lot of feelings for Nadia, Luke and Aubrey, and hearing the Mothers talk about the characters is powerful, albeit frustrating. It’s a case of the old world vs the new. We see how the world has changed for women, and we see the different expectations imposed on young black women and men. We see the hypocrisy inherent in a community, and how unhelpful it really is under a disguise of kindness.
The Mothers is one of those books that stays with you after you’ve finished reading it. Maybe because the world Bennett evokes is so utterly realistic you feel as though you’re in it. The struggles the characters go through will be familiar to many millennials, and its comment on race and women’s rights is incredibly timely.
I’m pretty amazed that Brit Bennett has written something so accomplished at such a young age. At 25 I didn’t know my ass from my elbow for the most part, and she has produced not only a completely provocative and moving story, but a piece of writing that is a smart commentary on the world today. It’s not surprising The Mothers is getting so much attention. Bennett has been profiled in major news outlets such as The New York Times, Vogue, Buzzfeed and Cosmopolitan. Plus, she’s a black woman, which is a great middle-finger to a publishing industry not winning points in diversity.
The Mothers is out in the UK on 13 October – I challenge you to read it without being mildly startled at how good it is.
The Mothers is published by Riverhead (paperback, 288pp £11.99, 9780735215405)