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Book Review: Brit Bennett stuns again with “The Mothers”

After I discovered (and practically devoured) Brit Bennett’s smash hit “The Vanishing Half” earlier this year, I told myself to hold off on buying her 2016 debut “The Mothers.” I wanted to relish in the beauty and characters of her generational epic, but I couldn’t help myself when I saw “The Mothers” appear on my Amazon recommended list.

This coming-of-age story follows the lives of the beautiful Nadia, pious Aubrey, and pastor’s son Luke within their community church in Southern California. The summer before Nadia goes off to college is a life-changing one–her mother dies by suicide and after a summer fling with Luke, Nadia is left with an unwanted pregnancy and a choice the teens will feel the impact of for years. It’s this summer that Nadia also befriends the shy and pious Aubrey–an unlikely friendship but one that will be tested throughout the remainder of the novel.

As Nadia, Aubrey and Luke age, their lives become more and more complicated with family emergencies, pressure from their conservative church, and marriage, the secrets of each character unravel their lives and community.

After Nadia’s abortion, Bennett doesn’t leave it in the past. The abortion is handled contentiously and with care–Nadia has the abortion and gets on with her life, but it’s still very much part of her life afterwards. Luke, too, deals with the aftershock of the abortion and carries it with him into his adulthood all while navigating his own marriage.

Bennett–once again–perfects the art of writing nuanced, flawed characters that will stick with you days after reading. Despite my inner thoughts yelling “Are you serious?” everytime Nadia, Aubrey, or Luke regresses or does something idiotic, Bennett’s characters seem to jump off the page and take notes from the real world to reveal the motivations and depth of each character.

The novel’s narration jumps in a Greek-style chorus between the three protagonists and the church mother’s who interject with their own judgements and stories. These interjections hit their bullseye–from messages about shame and grief, to what is expected from women and the double standard for black women.

I probably set myself up for a bit of disappointment since I started with Bennett’s most recent release. The social politics “The Vanishing Half” thrived on weren’t as heavy nor incisive when woven into “The Mothers.” Even the social commentary sprinkled throughout the novel left me wanting to be sucker-punched by her decisive prose and feeling let down by the lack of punches. Although a bit of let-down, the commentary about abortions and Black conservative communities were beautifully written and left a lingering effect on me as I considered what I would’ve done in Nadia or Aubrey’s positions.

Now, I know Bennett has only written two books, but whenever her next release comes out, I will be first in line at the bookstore to marvel at her impressive–and lingering novels.

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