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The Mothers
     

The Mothers

4.8 5
by Brit Bennett
 

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER 
NBCC John Leonard First Novel Prize Finalist

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction Finalist
An NPR Best Book of 2016
An Entertainment Weekly Best Book of 2016
A Vogue Magazine Best Book of the Year
A Goodreads Choice Award Finalist
One of Elle.com's

Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER 
NBCC John Leonard First Novel Prize Finalist

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction Finalist
An NPR Best Book of 2016
An Entertainment Weekly Best Book of 2016
A Vogue Magazine Best Book of the Year
A Goodreads Choice Award Finalist
One of Elle.com's Best Books of the Year

"Ferociously moving … despite Bennett’s thrumming plot, despite the snap of her pacing, it’s the always deepening complexity of her characters that provides the book’s urgency." –The New York Times Book Review

"Luminous… engrossing and poignant, this is one not to miss." –People, Pick of the Week 

"Fantastic… a book that feels alive on the page." –The Washington Post

A dazzling debut novel from an exciting new voice, The Mothers is a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community—and the things that ultimately haunt us most.

Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett's mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret.

"All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season."

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother's recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor's son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it's not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a "what if" can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Carmela Ciuraru
Suicide, abortion, grief, religion, female friendship and first love are bold themes to tackle in a debut novel, but 26-year-old Brit Bennett seems admirably repelled by caution…Ms. Bennett allows her characters to follow their worst impulses, and she handles provocative issues with intelligence, empathy and dark humor. Her risk-taking pays off.
The New York Times Book Review - Mira Jacob
To Brit Bennett's credit, her ferociously moving debut lives up to its title, never once allowing readers a simplistic view of the maternal pain at its center…Despite Bennett's thrumming plot, despite the snap of her pacing, it's the always deepening complexity of her characters that provides the book's urgency. Bennett's ability to unwind them gently, offering insights both shocking and revelatory, has a striking effect. I found myself reading not to find out what happens to the characters, but to find out who they are. Long after closing the book, I am still, like the most dogged of children, trying to follow them.
Publishers Weekly
★ 07/11/2016
Bennett’s brilliant, tumultuous debut novel is about a trio of young people coming of age under the shadow of harsh circumstances in a black community in Southern California. Deftly juggling multiple issues, Bennett addresses the subjects—abortion, infidelity, religious faith, and hypocrisy, race—head-on. At 17, Nadia Turner’s life is topsy-turvy. Six months after learning of her mother’s suicide, Nadia winds up pregnant and decides to abort the baby. The unborn baby’s father, Luke—a preacher’s son—gives Nadia the money to terminate but falls back on his promise to pick her up at the clinic after her appointment, causing a fissure in their relationship. Nadia’s secret decision haunts her for decades—through college in Michigan, law school, and an extended trip back home to care for her ailing father. Meanwhile, the slow-to-build trust between Luke and Aubrey, Nadia’s bible-thumping childhood best friend, who knows nothing of Nadia’s past, is threatened when Nadia and Luke reunite and rip open old wounds after Luke and Aubrey’s wedding. There’s much blame to go around, and Bennett distributes it equally. But she also shows an extraordinary compassion for her flawed characters. A Greek chorus of narrating gossipy “Mothers” (as they’re referred to in the text) from the local Upper Room Chapel provides further context and an extra layer to an already exquisitely developed story. Agent: Julia Kardon, Mary Evans Inc. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"Ferociously moving. . .a lush book, a book of so many secrets, betrayal. . .Despite Bennett’s thrumming plot, despite the snap of her pacing, it’s the always deepening complexity of her characters that provides the book’s urgency. . . I found myself reading not to find out what happens to the characters, but to find out who they are."The New York Times Book Review

“Ms. Bennett allows her characters to follow their worst impulses, and she handles provocative issues with intelligence, empathy and dark humor. Her risk-taking pays off.” –The New York Times

"[A] compelling debut." The New Yorker

"Delivers lines that you'll want to savor and read out loud — because it's a story about secrets and betrayals, and part of the pleasure is your own sighs and gasps. It's both intimate and epic in scope. . .It hums along at a brisk, emotional pace — the kind of story that feels like it's moving fast, but really, it's moving deep." –NPR

[Bennett’s] storytelling does what all truly good fiction does: it draws you in and, on a universal level, connects with you and makes you think. . .The Mothers is a thought-provoking novel that will resonate long after it is read.” –USA Today

"A fantastic debut novel. . .Some novels take place as you read them, while others grow more complicated as you think back on them. Bennett has written that rare combination: a book that feels alive on the page and rich for later consideration. . .Bennett is a writer to watch." –The Washington Post

"One of the most exciting debuts of the fall." –LA Times

"Luminous. . .engrossing and poignant, this is one not to miss." –People 

"[A] striking debut. . .America needs more books like The Mothers, which quietly, but critically, deepens our appreciation of the black experience, and expands our collective understanding of what it means now to be growing up and grasping for direction and affection." –O Magazine 

"With echoes of James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the MountainThe Mothers is not your typical coming-of-age novel: It begins with Nadia’s abortion, an experience often absent from our culture’s stories, and goes on to look at how women step in to nurture – and sometimes betray – one another." Vogue

"Brit Bennett comes charging out of Oceanside, California, with her stunning debut, The Mothers, a refreshingly fast-paced story of young love, race, and religious hypocrisy." –Vanity Fair

"Bennett’s hypnotic writing hooks you from the very beginning and never lets you go in this spine-tingling study of destiny." –Essence

"The Mothers isn’t about the consequences of decisions, but the repercussions of keeping secrets. . .funny, generous, and brightly written." –GQ

"The Mothers is a beautifully written, sad and lingering book – an impressive debut for such a young writer." The Guardian 

"A magical and startlingly realistic account of how powerfully our pasts can haunt us into adulthood—no matter how far we try to run from home." –Harper’s Bazaar

"Gripping. . .the twenty-first century answer to Toni Morrison’s Sula. . .displays the same complexity in its portrayal of a pair of girlfriends as they grow together, and then apart, in a tight-knit African American community." –Elle 

"As much as THE MOTHERS is steeped in black culture, it’s also pointedly, poignantly universal in its depiction of young love and friendship and hard choices. Maybe that qualifies as revolutionary, or maybe it’s just a really good novel, one that makes all the mess and magic of being young feel both new and familiar in the best kind of way." –Entertainment Weekly

"Stunning… this heartbreaking coming of age tale takes a brutally honest look at how the decisions of our past can haunt us well into adulthood, no matter how far we try to distance ourselves." Real Simple

"As her flawed, lovable characters make decisions they regret and deal with the consequences, Bennett unravels their tangled lives with a devastating elegance." –The Houston Chronicle

“[An] extraordinary novel, which mines human relationships so deeply and with such empathy… powerful.” –The Boston Globe

"A bracing, heartfelt debut about family, motherhood and friendship, grief and healing and how all of these elements and our own shaky decisions constantly reshape our lives." –The Miami Herald

"Shows remarkable confidence, flair and wisdom."Seattle Times  

“Don’t keep this beautifully written coming-of-age story to yourself.” Newsday

“Bennett’s evocation of the way her characters are haunted by their families’ pasts, her depiction of unbridled, damaging passion, and her masterful orchestration of different voices are techniques reminiscent of the great Toni Morrison.” Dallas Morning News

"What [Bennett] has done is fulfill the both simple and impossibly difficult mandate of any storyteller: to create a world her readers believe in and care about and draw meaning from…Extraordinary…You should be reading it." –Brooklyn Magazine

"The book tells its biggest secret right away. But what happens after is more interesting. Think: the small-town drama of "Friday Night Lights" and the 'what ifs' of "Sliding Doors."–The Skimm

"Amid roiling arguments about privilege, appropriation, and race, the 26-year-old writer — author of essays on all of the above — has written a first novel exactly for its time." –Vulture

"A smart, insightful story about the unique ways in which women need one another, the ways only women are capable of hurting each other, and how a decision you make when you're young can ripple like a bullet through the rest of your life — whether you regret it, or not." –Refinery29 

"The sad beauty of. . .The Mothers [is that] the characters’ pasts and deeper desires may be obfuscated by time. . . The Mothers brims with psychological insight and thoughtful commentary on the pain of loss and what motivates us to take actions maligned with our beliefs." –Huffington Post

"Brit Bennett is so bracingly talented on the page. . . [The Mothers is] astute and absorbing and urgent." –Jezebel

“A masterwork of modern fiction.” Fusion

“Gorgeous.” PopSugar

"Bennett's masterful first novel takes the reader on a multidimensional exploration of the things we desire and the things we settle for, what cements loyalties and what justifies betrayal." –Blavity

"Brilliant. . .poignant, yet lovely. . .The Mothers is one of those novels you truly don’t want to put down." –LitHub

“Bennett illuminates [her characters’] psychologies with the same delicate sense of economy, probing for the ways that their experiences produce complex emotional states only a fraction of which are known to one another — or even to themselves.”The Millions

"Extraordinary. . .Bennett broke my heart with this novel, with her investigation of friendship, secrets, love, choice and forgiveness." Electric Literature

"The Mothers is a quiet, beautiful text. . .As a reader, it is easy to trust where Bennett is taking you. Surrender is necessary, but with someone who can craft stories as skillfully as she can, it isn’t painful." –The Rumpus

"Brit Bennett is the real thing. The Mothers is a stellar novel — moving, thoughtful. Stunning. I couldn’t put it down. I’m so excited to have this brilliant new voice in the world."  Jacqueline Woodson, National Book Award-winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming  and Another Brooklyn

"Brit Bennett’s debut novel The Mothers has stayed with me since I first read it, the words and the intimacy of the prose seeping into my pores… There is a real tenderness to how Bennett tells this story and to how she writes these characters who are so richly fleshed out, so unbearably human." Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist and An Untamed State

 "What haunted me the most about this novel was the way it made a presence out of absence. It gave nothingness teeth and weaponized shadows. I thought I was escaping the current political climate, but I wasn’t. Part of what makes The Mothers a stunning novel is its exploration of kinship and primary bonds. Our relationship to country is as fraught as our relationship to kin." –Carrie Brownstein, author of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl 

"Brit Bennett's masterful debut is brimming with unforgettable scenes and the sort of keenly-observed, precise language that makes you look at your own relationships anew. Told with the wisdom of a seasoned, compassionate storyteller, The Mothers is a novel about community, friendship, grief and growth. The two women at the center of this novel are characters you will find yourself thinking about long after you've turned the last page-- they pull you in close and never let you go. Bennett is a brilliant and much-needed new voice in literature." Angela Flournoy, author of National Book Award-finalist The Turner House

"Brit Bennett’s The Mothers is a brilliant exploration of friendship, desire, inheritance, the love we seek, and the love we settle for. It is the kind of book that from its first page seduces you into knowing that the heartbreak coming will be worth it." Danielle Evans, author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self

"Brit Bennett’s The Mothers is an engaging and assured debut novel of depth, and introspective power. It succeeds as a brilliant study of a modern black woman, and as a lyrical and majestic portrait of her place in society." Chigozie Obioma, author of The Fishermen

"Wonderful – warm and tender and necessary." Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing 

"Conveys the complexities and challenges of young love with refreshing honesty and beautiful sentences. I cared about Brit Bennett's characters, and the choices they made, and couldn’t stop reading this remarkable debut." Vendela Vida, author of The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty 

"How do I start to describe The Mothers? Visceral? Riveting? Heart-wrenching? In the end this novel is all three and then some… Each line that Bennett produces cracks open with more intensity in order to ask over and over again: What if? The past and the present converge with each blossoming subplot until you begin to wonder what "mistakes" you've made in the past that changed your future, and whether or not you will have to grapple with them. The Mothers is a rollercoaster ride that picks up very quickly even while maintaining its complexity as it moves through the interwoven journeys of Brit Bennett's unforgettable characters." Morgan Jerkins, Book of the Month

Library Journal
05/01/2016
In a contemporary black community in Southern California, 17-year-old Nadia Turner and 21-year-old Luke Sheppard launch a soulful affair. She's lost her mother to suicide, he's lost a football career to injury, and the decisions they make when Nadia becomes pregnant will reverberate throughout their lives, particularly complicating Nadia's close friendship with the devout Aubrey. Bennett has won numerous honors, notably the University of Michigan's Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction.
Kirkus Reviews
2016-04-13
The tangled destinies of three kids growing up in a tightknit African-American community in Southern California. "She was seventeen then. She lived with her father, a Marine, and without her mother, who had killed herself six months earlier. Since then the girl had earned a wild reputation—she was young and scared and trying to hide her scared in her prettiness." Bennett's debut novel tells the story of this grieving 17-year-old girl, Nadia, her best friend, Aubrey, and her boyfriend, Luke, told partly by Nadia and partly by a chorus of eponymous "Mothers," the church ladies of Upper Room Chapel, where Luke's father is the pastor. The three teenagers are drawn together by the damage they have already suffered: Luke's promising football career was ended by a terrible injury; Aubrey has moved away from home to escape abuse by her stepfather. More trouble awaits when Nadia discovers she's carrying Luke's baby and decides not to keep it. This decision creates a web of secrets that endures for decades—though the ever watchful, ever gossiping Mothers never stop sniffing around and suspecting. Nadia tries to escape the clutches of small-town drama by attending college and law school across the country, but when she returns home to care for her ailing father, she finds herself enmeshed in unfinished business. "All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season." Far from reliably offering love, protection, and care, in this book, the mothers cause all the trouble. A wise and sad coming-of-age story showing how people are shaped by their losses. Recommended for both adult and teenage readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780399184512
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/11/2016
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
7,089
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

In the darkness of the club, you could be alone with your grief. Her father had flung himself into Upper Room. He went to both services on Sunday mornings, to Wednesday night Bible study, to Thursday night choir practice although he did not sing, although practices were closed but nobody had the heart to turn him away. Her father propped his sadness on a pew, but she put her sad in places no one could see. The bartender shrugged at her fake ID and mixed her a drink and she sat in dark corners, sipping rum-and-Cokes and watching women with beat bodies spin on stage. Never the skinny, young girls—the club saved them for weekends or nights—just older women thinking about grocery lists and child care, their bodies stretched and pitted from age. Her mother would've been horrified at the thought—her in a strip club, in the light of day—but Nadia stayed, sipping the watery drinks slowly. Her third time in the club, an old black man pulled up a chair beside her. He wore a red plaid shirt under suspenders, gray tufts peeking out from under his Pacific Coast Bait & Tackle cap.

"What you drinkin’?" he asked.

"What're you drinking?" she said.

He laughed. "Naw. This a grown man drink. Not for a little thing like you. I'll get you somethin’ sweet. You like that, honey? You look like you got a sweet tooth."

He smiled and slid a hand onto her thigh. His fingernails curled dark and long against her jeans. Before she could move, a black woman in her forties wearing a glittery magenta bra and thong appeared at the table. Light brown streaked across her stomach like tiger stripes.

"You leave her be, Lester," the woman said. Then to Nadia. "Come on, I'll freshen you up."

"Aw, Cici, I was just talkin’ to her," the old man said.

"Please," Cici said. "That child ain't even as old as your watch."

She led Nadia back to the bar and tossed what was left of her drink down the drain. Then she slipped into a white coat and beckoned for Nadia to follow her outside. Against the slate gray sky, the flat outline of the Hanky Panky seemed even more depressing. Further along the building, two white girls were smoking and they each threw up a hand when Cici and Nadia stepped outside. Cici returned the lazy greeting and lit a cigarette.

"You got a nice face," Cici said. "Those your real eyes? You mixed?"

"No," she said. "I mean, they're my eyes but I'm not mixed."

"Look mixed to me." Cici blew a sideways stream of smoke. "You a runaway? Oh, don't look at me like that. I won't report you. I see you girls come through here all the time, looking to make a little money. Ain't legal but Bernie don't mind. Bernie'll give you a little stage time, see what you can do. Don't expect no warm welcome though. Hard enough fighting those blonde bitches for tips—wait till the girls see your light-bright ass."

"I don't want to dance," Nadia said.

"Well, I don't know what you're looking for but you ain't gonna find it here." Cici leaned in closer. "You know you got see-through eyes? Feels like I can see right through them. Nothin’ but sad on the other side." She dug into her pocket and pulled out a handful of crumpled ones. "This ain't no place for you. Go on down to Fat Charlie's and get you something to eat. Go on."

Nadia hesitated, but Cici dropped the bills into Nadia's palm and curled her fingers into a fist. Maybe she could do this, pretend she was a runaway, or maybe in a way, she was. Her father never asked where she'd been. She returned home at night and found him in his recliner, watching television in a darkened living room. He always looked surprised when she unlocked the front door, like he hadn't even noticed that she'd been gone.

Meet the Author

Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. Her work is featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel. She is one of the National Book Foundation's 2016 5 Under 35 honorees.

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The Mothers 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Wow! Such a great book, it's amazing that it's a debut. Beautifully told, heart wrenching at times, with passages that I literally reread, they were that good. I can't recommend it enough.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Hard to put down! An easy lazy weekend read. Loved the characters/personalities, a true story of the complications of life, first loves, and friendship.
Anonymous 8 months ago
I absolutely loved reading the perspective of "the mothers", (the church ladies) at the beginning of each chapter. The writing is wonderful, the characters so real--- tough decisions, hard consequences, strong friendships. This goes on my list of most favorite books ever!
Anonymous less than 1 minute ago
I loved this book
Anonymous 5 months ago
The words in this novel are beautfully woven. Some passages I wanted to highlite and keep to reread. This is a deep book with characters filled with angst. What a subject to have woven through time in their lives. Loved The Mothers talking their minds and perspective in just about every chapter. This book is sad, so my advice is to have a lighthearted book ready to read next.
feather_lashes 8 months ago
★★★½ “The book, I think, is about this central question of how girls grow into women when the female figures who are supposed to usher you into womanhood aren’t there. How girls come of age with that absence. And it’s about how communities are shaped by loss, this thing I keep writing about—how in moments of grief, community can be both a source of comfort and a source of oppression. My main character feels this responsibility to her community yet wants to escape it at the same time. And I was interested in this complexity, as well as the experience of being a young black woman in a community that expects a lot of her, in a world that expects very little.” I found the above insight in this online interview with the author and I think it summarizes The Mothers theme beautifully. Overall, I liked The Mothers and especially enjoyed reading the relationship dynamics written into this story in terms of family, friendship, church body, and a conservative small town. I appreciated Brit Bennett bringing attention to gender double standards, role expectations, and negative self-fulfilling prophecies. This was an interesting read that was both entertaining and thought provoking. If you enjoy reading a variety of themes within the literary fiction and women's fiction genres, check it out! My favorite quote: “Was that all it took, kneeling at the altar and asking for help? Or did you have to invite everyone in on your private sorrow to be saved?”