“This would be her life, accomplishing the things her mother had never done. She never celebrated this, unlike her friends who were proud to be the first in their family to go to college or the first to earn a prestigious internship. How could she be proud of lapping her mother, when she had been the one to slow her down in the first place?”
In The Mothers by Brit Bennett, Nadia loses her mother as a teenage and we get to see her grief in all its different stages. She begins acting out in fairly typical teenage fashion- partying a lot, starting a relationship with someone who isn’t good for her, rebelling against her father, etc… However, she is soon forced to make some very adult decisions and learns that she can only rely on herself. There were some very difficult and heartbreaking moments for Nadia in this story and it was easy to empathize with her. And many of the other characters as well. It’s not always a happy or pretty book but it feels so very real. And for those of us who have ever wondered how things would have been if we had made a different choice in life (and who hasn’t?) – this book asks that question a lot.
This is a FANTASTIC debut novel. Brit Bennett’s writing is smart, engrossing and beautiful. An engaging coming of age story for our main character and two of her friends. In addition to all of the difficult life lessons learned by these characters as they grow up, the story also provides us with an honest and fascinating look inside a church community and the people who are the backbone of this community. And Bennett manages to create a story with characters that are easy to relate to, even if you don’t share that particular life experience.
For instance, just read the quoted passage in the beginning of this review. I think everyone has some guilty feelings associated with their parents, their families or those who raised them. Even if your mother didn’t get pregnant with you as a teenager or kill herself when you were a teenager as Nadia’s mother did, what children haven’t felt like their parents’ (or guardians’) lives would have been better if they had never been born? As a first generation college student, there were times when I felt guilty for “lapping” my parents. And there were definitely times growing up poor that I questioned if my parents’ lives would be easier if they never had children. I think it’s natural to question these things and this passage really gives us insight into Nadia’s viewpoint and how alienated she feels from most people.
It is when I read books like these that I feel gratitude for female writers – there are some things that men simply can’t understand. And it’s not always that the entire book is different than it would have been if a man wrote it (although that is the case a lot of the time), sometimes it’s just a few phrases sprinkled throughout that really resonate with me. Within the first few chapters is one of those passages:
“A man who laced his fingers through yours all night and held your feet when you were sad had to love you, at least a little bit. Besides, what did a bunch of old ladies know? We would’ve told her that all together, we got centuries on her. If we laid all our lives toes to heel, we were born before the Depression, the Civil War, even America itself. In all that living, we have known men. Oh girl, we have known littlebit love. That littlebit of honey left in an empty jar that traps the sweetness in your month long enough to mask your hunger. We have run tongues over teeth to savor that last litttlebit as long as we could, and in all our living, nothing has starved us more.”
Gah, this passage still gives me the chills. “Nothing has starved us more.” This is something that a man would never understand, much less write about. Ahhh SO GOOD. I really loved the “mothers” characters and viewpoints that were interspersed throughout the book and I would have liked to see more of them. I think “the mothers” and their experiences and views had the potential to be even better than they were. I do recognize that focusing more on the mothers could have detracted from Nadia’s story and that is not something I would have wanted to happen in this book but a few more passages like these would be perfection (for me at least). However, I really did love this book and I look forward to reading whatever Bennett writes next! I will end this review with another one of my favorite (slightly misandrist) quotes from this book:
“He felt guilty. He’d abandoned her once and now he was latching onto her, not out of affection but out of shame. She refused to let him bury his guilt in her. She would not be a burying place for any man again.”