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review 2017-01-23 16:47
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
The Mothers: A Novel - Brit Bennett

This book has been going around quite a bit and I became very curious about what The Mothers had to say. So I went to the library, my second home, and picked up a copy. And I must say, it's a pretty good read.

 

The book starts off with Nadia, a seventeen-year-old girl, who just lost her mother to suicide. Grieving, she later becomes involved with the pastor's son, Luke, and they have a secret relationship that results in Nadia becoming pregnant. She goes through many ups and downs whilst trying to figure out what she wants in life. Aubrey, a friend Nadia meets at the town's local church, becomes heavily involves in both Nadia and Luke's lives and all three are shown throughout the novel growing into adulthood whilst trying to discover who they are as people.

 

I really liked this story. The writing was quite beautiful and I enjoyed the way Bennett told the story. Part of the story is told by this elderly group called The Mothers. They are an older generation of women who are at the community church and tell the story from an outsider's perspective, reminiscent to the Greek chorus. I love that writing style and Bennett did an excellent job in using it to engage the reader into her story about these character.

 

Speaking of characters, they are extremely flawed. I don't really think there's any redeemable qualities in any of them. Nadia becomes so grief stricken after losing her mother that she becomes reckless. Reckless to the point she is willing to hurt her father, who is going through his own grieving process, and her best friend. Luke... I don't like Luke. I didn't understand why Nadia was so hung up over him. After he treats he horribly throughout the entire book. He mostly wanted to have sex with her and that's it. Aubrey is the character I like most in this book. She goes through her own problems and have a strained relationship with her mother. The only solace she found being the church. I'm not religious myself so it was interesting seeing how this character was able to embrace her faith enough to comfort her but not obsess over it (as I've seen other characters do in other books). I enjoyed seeing her grow and transform into the woman she became.

 

There's a certain incident that happens later in the book that I cannot talk about in great detail because it's quite a huge spoiler. However, I will say that incident really didn't sit well with me. I know things like that happen all the time in real life and it's not that I have a problem with. I will say the incident is cheating. I don't like when anyone cheats. If you are in a committed relationship with someone, you do NOT cheat. It's wrong. If there's consent between both parties to involve someone else, then that's fine, Polyamorous relationships deserve as much respect as monoamorous ones. However, this was cheating through and through. And THAT is wrong.

 

But don't get me wrong. The cheating itself is not what bugs me. Like I said, it happens all the time. It's how it's dealt with that doesn't sit right with me. It wrapped up too nicely. Everything was just handle too simply. Too cleanly. I know people shouldn't hold grudges and that you should learn to forgive and let go. But for everything to be completely forgiven in the end? There really wasn't any consequences to be had. For something like that to be forgiven and forgotten seemed too unrealistic to me.

 

This is in no way to say that I didn't like the book. I did. Personally, I just felt the ending was wrapped up too quickly for me to fully immerse myself in the narrative. 

 

If you like stories about friendship, community, loss, and faith then you should definitely give this book a try. A bit of a warning though, there's talk of suicide, sexual assault, and rape so keep that in mind if those are things you rather stay clear of. Otherwise, this is a pretty good book about what it's like to live in a small Christian community and how that can influence people therein.

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review 2016-12-19 14:02
So much hype.
The Mothers: A Novel - Brit Bennett

Nadia is dealing with the end of high school and her mother's suicide. She gets in a relationship with Luke, a former football star who is now waiting tables. Their relationship culminates in a child that Nadia chooses to abort. This decision will have ramifications that will come back to haunt the two of them and the people they know in the years to come. Or something.

 

The book has been widely touted by various outlets as an amazing work that is up for consideration/has won various awards. Why that is remains a complete mystery to me. Yes, there are some beautiful lines and initially the story seemed quite intriguing. But it just seemed like the author did not have anything to say, and dressed up the story to hide between the sometimes nice writing.

 

I do think some of the criticism about the book over Nadia's choice is unwarranted (come on, it's not like women don't face this decision every day and it's not like they don't make the same decisions she does) and was a perfectly fine story to explore. The problem, as other reviews point out, is that it's a well-worn story without anything new or even interesting to say. Young woman dealing with turbulence meets a young man dealing with some of the same. She gets pregnant, decides to have an abortion and tries to move on with her life.

 

Aside from this the title is also puzzling. Initially I had assumed (because I chose not to read too many reviews/summaries to avoid building expectations) was that Nadia would be one of the mothers of the title. Instead they serve as a sort of Greek chorus commenting on the story and narrating the events for the reader. Not a bad device but not used effectively here.

 

I wouldn't recommend this one. This was one of those books that I hesitated on because of the initial hype and the story didn't grab me. If the tale is appealing to you, give it a shot. Otherwise don't read it because of the hype.

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text 2016-12-13 02:41
The influence of mothers on their children is universal!
The Mothers: A Novel - Brit Bennett

The Mothers, Brit Bennett, author; Adenrele Ojo, narrator Recently, there has been a plethora of books about some current social issue facing us all. This one is no different, in that regard. Human sexuality, morality and racial issues take the stage at various moments in the narrative. However, the main thrust of the novel seems to be the effects of secrets and betrayal on a mostly young and innocent trio of young people as they mature, grow and learn to accept the responsibility that comes with adulthood. The novel takes place in Oceanside, California and concerns a tight knit black community that revolves around the church of Pastor Sheppard. The Upper Room Chapel in the church is where the mothers gather, and the volunteers come, in order to help those less fortunate. There, the mothers communed with each other, overseeing the behavior of their neighbors and congregants, gossiping about the news they had overheard, possibly third hand, and then created their own rumors that were often disproved later on, but also often presented dangerous consequences because they led to misconceptions and false judgments about possibly innocent victims. These mothers who did lots of good for their church brethren, remembered being young, and they lamented the changes that had occurred over the years regarding personal, responsible behavior. There were do’s and don’ts that were once followed carefully by all of them, when they were young, but that seemed, to them, to be irrelevant today. When Nadia Turner’s mother committed suicide, she was left adrift in a void that her father was unable to fill. She looked for comfort from the pastor’s son, Luke Sheppard. When she discovered she was pregnant, she realized she did not want the baby. She had big plans for her future. She had been accepted to the University of Michigan, and she envisioned a different life for herself than that of motherhood at age 17. Luke, although he was older and should have been wiser, went along with her wishes. He had an image to uphold as the pastor’s son. He obtained the money for her to have an abortion, but then he stood her up at the abortion clinic, not picking her up after the procedure. Alone, she faced the trauma and realized how foolish she had been. The secret of that abortion was kept for many years, but both Luke and Nadia carried their heartbreak with them into the future. They were both scarred by the event, and the future held grave consequences for both of them. When the pastor offered to give Nadia a job so she could have some spending money when she went off to college, her father readily agreed. She began to work for the pastor’s wife, a very self-righteous woman who did not approve of Nadia. At the church, she became friendly with Aubrey, a young quiet, girl who had no friends. Aubrey volunteered in the Upper Room and kept to herself. Both young girls were outcasts in their own way, and they grew close in a friendship that spanned distance and time until the day that many secrets and betrayals came to light causing a rift between them. Aubrey lived with her sister and her sister’s partner. Both women tried to help and to guide her when she came to live with them. After being raped repeatedly by her mother’s boyfriend, she was skittish around men and avoided social situations. Aubrey was kind and compassionate, however, and rarely resentful. She tended to appreciate what she had and wanted to help others. Nadia was different. She felt that her mother had abandoned her, and so too, had Luke. She often resented her father’s inattention to her, and never appreciated the little kindnesses he did attempt to show. Luke carried the responsibility of being the pastor’s son on his shoulders. He had been the recipient of a full football scholarship to college, but after he was injured, it was rescinded. Both Nadia and Luke seemed to address and satisfy their own needs first, often without thinking about consequences. They didn’t accept responsibility for the results of their actions. Aubrey, on the other hand was respected as a quiet, kind and responsible young girl who responded kindly to the needs of others. So, the story is essentially about the relationships between Nadia and Luke, Nadia and Aubrey, and Aubrey and Luke. Hovering over them, like a shadow, were the mothers that observed and noted the goings-on in the community, responded to those in need, but also judged and buzzed with their gossip, often influencing behavior with detrimental results. As the details of the lives of Nadia, Luke and Aubrey were explored, the story took shape. The reader watched as Nadia matured, Aubrey overcame her fears, and Luke became a more responsible man. They each had scores to settle or learn to accept. Their sometimes self-destructive behavior and interactions with each other were examined, in detail, by the author, as was their own self- examination as they recognized and attempted to correct their shortcomings, repent for their sins, accept what they could not change, deal with their painful memories, and apologize for their mistakes. The reader is a voyeur as they move on with their lives, each in their own way. The author wove threads of her life throughout the novel, a novel that was read well, with appropriate accents, expression and emphasis by the narrator Adenrele Ojo. ***These are several different themes addressed in the book which would make for interesting book group discussions: 1-Nadia’s mother abandoned her when she committed suicide. Nadia was angry about how her life had turned out, unexpectedly. 2-Aubrey’s mom neglected her and allowed her to be sexually abused. She was sad and hurt and went to live with her sister and her sister's partner who gave her a more wholesome environment. 3-Luke’s mother expected him to behave properly but he was wayward and willful, even though he was a pastor's son. His parents protected and guarded his image. 4-The mothers congregating in The Upper Room Chapel were nostalgic about their pasts as they observed the young people and how things had changed. 5-Interracial relationships were accepted and were easy-going and natural. 6-The conflict between becoming a mother and/or getting an education took center stage allowing for a discussion on the subject of abortion. 7-Each of the mothers approached life and their family in different ways. 8-Each of the young adults dealt with their disappointments in life differently and grew in their own individual way as they faced their problems.

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review 2016-04-04 00:08
Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation
Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation - Cokie Roberts
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review 2016-03-16 00:01
The Mothers - Rod Jones

An entire spectrum of sentiments and feelings can be associated with the word “mother.” One’s attempts at defining the term is strongly linked to one’s personal experiences, whether they be positive or negative. However by selecting the title, The Mothers, I would think that many readers would initially assume that the novel would describe a favorable position of motherhood…a kind of homage and celebration of a mother’s strength and fortitude in supporting her children’s wellbeing and welfare against any hardships that are faced. If by looking at the title alone and thinking that the novel might make a promising Mother’s Day gift, it might not invoke the positive reaction you were seeking.

 

The novel chronicles four generations of mothers, from World War I to the 1990s, all of whom eventually become part of an interconnected family. The author Rod Jones firmly entrenches his novel within a historical context. The four generations of women are set in a background of varying levels of political, social and environmental calm and upheaval. However, all of the women he describes are somehow emotionally distanced from these periods of change; their reactions to situations are remarkably similar despite the social differences occurring during their respective timelines. This similarity does a disservice to the stories of these women, who ultimately seem products of an older generation in regards to their relationships with their children and, more importantly, their men.

 

Despite the novel’s title, The Mothers strongly focuses on the women’s relationships with men, rather than their relationships with their children. At times, it almost feels as if the title The Mothers is a misnomer. In truth, the novel assumes the old-fashioned belief that children are better seen and not heard. At various points in the story, the reader can “see” the children out playing, attending school or going to work. Other times, the children are actually visually absent from the story because they haven’t yet been born. For the most part, the children are not involved in the active verbal conflicts associated with the four main female protagonists, which creates a noticeable distance between mother and child in all four sections of the novel.

 

Additionally, even though the author introduces some themes associated with these children, they are not fully realized over the course of the novel due to the story transitions. For example, two of the children who are introduced in the first section of the novel, essentially disappear in the other sections when the author shifts focus to new storylines. Though these children do make brief appearances in the later sections, the themes that were initially introduced, namely Teddy’s emotional reticence and growing sense of disappointment and loss are quietly forgotten.

 

There is minimal verbal interaction between mother and child across the novel; and at some points, the mothers seemingly want to distance themselves from addressing any potential conflict with their children. For these mothers, such crisis moments are best resolved by sending the child away, offering the child phenobarbitals, or potentially considering imposing a forced separation between herself and the child. Ultimately, it becomes apparent to the reader that it is not really the women’s role as a mother that drives their decision making, but it is the the male figures in their lives that truly guide the choices they make as mothers. 

 

The four mothers of this novel lack a strong, independent will, and are heavily dependent upon the assistance of men. When this dependence is severed, the women are cast adrift, either looking to the past to find grains of comfort, or to seek some other male replacement, whether consciously or unconsciously, to fill that empty void, rather than attempt a life of independence with their children. Such choices are made regardless of the relative danger and instability associated with making such a choice, both for themselves and for their children. 

 

The first mother to whom the reader is introduced actually describes her hesitance in wanting to accept charity, yet she does not actively consider looking for a job, even the most menial position. She ultimately elicits the help of two other men. The second mother is described as being rather childlike in demeanor, and is heavily dependent upon her husband for support and assistance. Arguably, it almost seems as if the male figure in this particular relationship assumes a mother bird-like protectiveness. At a later point in the novel when this woman becomes a widow, she is described as being “still stuck back in 1969, where the solid road of her family life had come to a sudden end.” In another section of the story, the empty void is so extreme that this mother resorts to turning Humphrey Bogart’s Charlie Allnut character in The African Queen into a god-like figure to whom she prays for assistance and strength. This woman eventually again relies on the advice and guidance of another man to determine the course of action she should take when provided with the opportunity of resuming a relationship with a lost child. The final mother figure to whom the reader is introduced is shockingly passive and submissive, which is a blatant contrast to the 1970s women’s liberation timeframe in which she is living. Her partner is emotionally abusive and distant, yet since he is the father of her unborn child, she cannot envision a life separate from his. All in all, the four stories that the author describes force the reader to question the degree of responsibility these women have in their role as mothers. 

 

In the book’s favor, Rod Jones’ novel does provide a distinctive voice for each of the mothers he describes. Each of the four sections employ a subtle technical change in style that is reflective of the character traits of the four mothers. The first section is a story that is plainly told, which reflects the dispassionate nature of the first mother he describes. The second section assumes a simple, unadorned way of writing. Description is minimal and lacks an imaginative maturity that is reflective of the mother he describes. It is rather difficult for the reader to learn much about this woman based upon what is described, other than this woman’s childhood fears, fears that she also extends to her understanding of others. The third section adopts a dreamlike stream of consciousness. Of the four sections, the author provides a tone that is arguably almost affectionate and sympathetic in its description. The situation in which this mother is placed is hopeless, yet it hints at a potential sense of healing that contrasts the growing sense of absurdity that follows her train of thoughts as her story progresses. The fourth section in contrast lacks a true sense of hopefulness, and is instead a study of negative contrasts and dichotomies. Despite this mother’s lack of advanced education, her story is replete with astute, intelligent commentary. However she seemingly fails to apply this intelligence to herself and her own situation. She remains blindingly optimistic despite the many warning signs that come her way.

 

When reflecting upon Rod Jones’ novel as a whole, his novel does have technical merits in its tone and section construction. However when the reader breaks down the stories he describes in their most basic form, the novel is essentially four retellings of the same tale: a woman who needs a male figure in her life to help balance her responsibilities and duties as a mother. The underlying message Jones leaves his readers is not entirely favorable; and with the knowledge that the novel is semi-autobiographical, one wonders what Jones is really trying to say here.

 

Copy provided by NetGalley

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