Riverhead Books 2016
An urgent and provocative debut from an exciting new voice, The Mothers is a book about community and ambition, love and friendship, and living up to expectation in contemporary black America.
It begins with a secret. It is the last season of high school for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her mother’s recent suicide, she has taken up with the local pastor’s son, Luke. They are young; it’s not serious. But the secret that results from this romance – and the subsequent cover up – will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth.
As Nadia hides the truth from everyone, including Aubrey, her chaste best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full fledged adults, still shadowed by the choices they made in their youth, 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.
With wisdom, empathy and insight The Mothers asks whether ‘what if’ can be more powerful than the experience itself. Whether as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of out younger selves and to the communities that have parented us.
First a quick bit of cover admiration, because as an avid bookstagrammer, this pretty cover is noticeable and memorable and without knowing anything about the book I knew I wanted to read it simply because it had caught my eye on social media.
Onto the book and what a treat this short read was. Not usually one to shout out about writing, I loved how this book was written, each chapter commenced with a brief and informal introduction by the Mothers; the older women of the community, ever present at church and aware of everything that goes on. Wise in their latter years with a wealth of experience behind them.
This is largely Nadia’s story, not a new story – a tale of her first love, shrouded in secrets and Nadia wears a veil of grief, not understanding the reasons for her mother’s recent suicide and damaged by what is to come.
Essentially it is a sad story of friendship, love and loss but so beautifully told, not poetic or abstract but in such a way as to bring the characters to life, allowing the reader to accept and empathise with these wounded souls and all their flaws. The dialogue of the Mothers serves to hint at the direction the story is going, from a neutral standpoint before the reader is taken back to the lives of Nadia, Luke and Aubrey. Told in the third person from these 3 perspectives, all characters evoked my sympathy, despite their actions not always being the best.
I did really enjoy this book, but if I had to criticise it would be that the ending was so open. I was invested in these characters and I wanted to know how they ended up, did things work out for them, what happened in the years to follow. But sometimes that is the glory of fiction and I wonder if paradoxically, I would have liked this book less if it offered a neat ending!
A truly great read, short at less than 300 pages but very quick to read. Thank you so much to Janel at Keeper of the Pages for sharing their copy of this book with me. You can read Janel’s great review here – it inspired me to want to read the book!
Thanks as always for reading!