The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Oh, my heart! This book aches the whole way through. I was absolutely astonished by the writing.
The Mothers is about a young girl named Nadia who tries to cope after her mother kills herself, the catalyst for Nadia’s pursuit of any opportunity that makes her feel—any opportunity to forget her hurt.
She meets Luke, the pastor’s son, and the teen romance ends abruptly, but she can’t stop imagining the life she could have had. In her suffering, she forms an unlikely friendship with a God-fearing girl named Aubrey. The characters are molded by their hurt over the years, each moving through their lives like ghosts, but they remain connected.
This is truly one of the most heart-breaking books about grief, lost love, and the severed intimacy of family. I almost couldn’t bear it. But in its ruthless untangling, there’s a bravery to it and a quiet acceptance that startles me awake.
Brit Bennett has the tragic gift of understanding the misunderstandings of people—the truth behind closed doors and the secrets we carry in our loneliness and our grief. I was weighed down by what lay behind her words. As the mothers said, “the weight of what has been lost is always heavier than what remains.” But, my goodness, I was stunned by how beautiful it was: not just the poetic language, but the way she dissects emotion and makes it uncomfortably tangible. She doesn’t apologize for it.
I loved that about this story. I loved Aubrey’s story especially, and I was extremely impressed by how she fleshed out the Mothers’ collective voice. Every “we,” and “she-said-he-said” was a perfect echo of the “church gossip” of the south; I was surprised, at times, that it took place in Southern California. I was also surprised by how much we, as readers, can peer into Luke’s thoughts, motivations, desires, and fears.
What else can I say? This book made me grieve for my gender. I felt the weight of a woman’s shame—a mother’s shame— that presses and flattens you out on all sides—the shame and pressures laid upon every mother and every girl who will one day be expected to grow into a mother. “Magic you wanted was a miracle, magic you didn’t want was haunting.” “Suffering pain is what made you a woman.”
Even so, this book made me proud to be a woman. I’m softened by their need for love and their need to love. They feel hurt beyond repair, but the heart is stronger. In the midst of suffering, one character remembers walking to the end of a pier—a pier that must be rebuilt time and time again because of the storms. “She wondered if that was the point, if sometimes the glory was in rebuilding the broken thing, not the result but the process of trying.”
Oh, there’s so much we don’t know about the human heart. We experience it all with Nadia: how a loved one’s face she aches to remember slowly slips away while the grainy image on a sonogram never leaves her.
There’s no doubt about it. I will definitely pick up Brit Bennett’s next book.