June 9, 2017

Got a secret. Can you keep it?

Have you ever judged a book by its cover? Let's be real - who hasn't? I'm totally guilty of this cliché. A gorgeous cover can make me pick up a book with an iffy summary or bad reviews, and an ugly cover can make me turn up my nose at a book that interests me or was highly recommended. I try to curb the judgements based solely on looks, however, because I don't want to miss out on something great just because I hate the cover.

But the combination of a meh summary and an ugly cover is basically an automatic rejection... even if someone recommends it to me. And I'd admitting to this because The Mothers by Brit Bennett falls into that category for me. I kept seeing it pop up in magazines and 'Best of' lists year but dismissed it. I assumed it was too literary (not the genre for me) and hated the cover regardless. Then, Cassie read it and loved it. She didn't specifically recommend it to me, but she definitely piqued my interest when she talked about her experience with the audiobook. I moved it to my mental "Maybe" list and figured I'd eventually forget about it. But when I saw it at the library one day, I picked it up and read the first page. The next thing I knew, I was rushing to check it out because the writing enthralled me.

The Mothers is set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, and 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 in our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season.”
That's all it took for me to take the book home with me. I immediately wanted to know more. Nadia Turner is seventeen, mourning the recent death of her mother, and rebelling against her father. She starts sneaking around with the pastor's son, twenty-one-year-old Luke Sheppard. Their secret relationship has far-reaching consequences when it results in a pregnancy and subsequent cover-up. The years pass, but Nadia and Luke are forever haunted by the choices they made that summer. It explores love and friendship, family and community, resentment and forgiveness in an unforgettable way.

There are so many things I could praise about this book, but I'd be remiss not to start with the writing. It's what helped me overcome my initial dislike of the cover and my hesitation to read it due to some of the subject matter. I have a hard time believing this is Bennett's debut novel - she writes with such maturity and depth! I bookmarked so many quotes in this book that resonated with me. Some were small gems, like:
Could you be nostalgic for a friendship that wasn't over yet or did the fact that you were nostalgic mean that it already was?
And then there were whole passages that stood out:
“But we were girls once, which is to say, we have all loved an ain’t-shit man. No Christian way of putting it. There are two types of men in the world: men who are and men who ain’t about shit. [...] A girl nowadays has to get nice and close to tell if her man ain't shit and by then, it might be too late. We were girls once. It's exciting, loving someone who can never love you back. Freeing, in its own way. No shame in loving an ain't-shit man, long as you get it out your system good and early. A tragic woman hooks into an ain't-shit man, or worse, lets him hook into her. He will drag her until he tires. He will climb atop her shoulders and her body will sag from the weight of loving him. Yes, those are the ones we worry about.”
Because I heard so much buzz for this book, I imagined that it would be too literary or too pretentious for me. But it wasn't, and I was so pleasantly surprised! The characters were well developed, nuanced and memorable. Nadia, Luke and Aubrey (Nadia's best friend) all played important roles in the story, and I was interested in each of them. Bennett was able to create characters who were sympathetic, even when I disagreed with their choices, and I think much of that stems from how emotionally invested I was in their lives.

I believe the title of The Mothers partly comes from a literary device used throughout the novel: a collective voice that represented the women of Nadia, Luke and Aubrey's church community. These "mothers" become somewhat of a Greek chorus - commenting on what was happening and offering additional insight. I have a feeling it won't work for everyone, but I actually loved that aspect. Many of my favorite quotes came from those parts of the novel! But I think there's another layer to the title, and it stems from the fact that Aubrey and Nadia are both essentially motherless. Nadia's mother committed suicide, and Aubrey lives with her sister since her mother cares more about her whatever boyfriend she's currently shacking up with than she does about her own daughter. And so, the book explores coming-of-age without this central female figure.

I loved that it took place over a longer span of time than I'd anticipated because it allowed you to see these characters come into their own. Instead of following them through one season and only seeing the immediate consequences of their actions, you were able to see the long-term repercussions and the what if? questions that haunted each character. The ending was unexpected, but in a good way for me. I actually appreciated the openness of it, even though that sometimes bothers me. This is a book I'll definitely re-read!

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that The Mothers took all of my preconceived notions and turned them upside down. If I ever need a reminder to be careful judging a book by its cover, this is the review I'll return to. I thought I'd hate this book, and I ended up loving it. So, I was clearly wrong in my snap judgment because Bennett's writing blew me away. It tackled serious and heavy issues without feeling bleak, and I can tell that Brit Bennett is a born storyteller. She has a gift, and I'm so glad she's sharing it with the world.

So Quotable
“A daughter grows older and draws nearer to her mother, until she gradually overlaps her like a sewing pattern. But a son becomes some irreparably separate thing.”
Published: October 2016 | Publisher: Penguin; Riverhead Books
Pages: 278 pages | Source & Format: Borrowed; Hardcover

2 comments:

  1. Oh that WRITING. Goodness sakes. I'm like you and even seeing this pop up in my feed reader I'm like "meh that cover" but you snagged me with your title of the post ;)

    I'll add this to my to-read! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. 🙂 yessssss!!! I loved this book and am so
    glad you did too!!! Can't wait for what's next from Brit Bennett!

    ReplyDelete

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