By Brit Bennett
Riverhead (278 pages, $26)
The Mothers of Upper Room Chapel are worried about the future: “Anyone knows a church is only as good as its women, and when we all passed on to glory, who would hold this church up?” they demand, gazing with disapproval at the teenagers in their small Southern California congregation. Who will carry on? Not the “sullen and slow” boys, not the girls, who are “even worse.”
How can any community survive with such a disappointing legacy?
“The Mothers” is Brit Bennett’s first novel, and it’s a bracing, heartfelt debut about family, motherhood and friendship, grief and healing and how all of these elements and our own shaky decisions constantly reshape our lives. Chosen as one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” honorees, Bennett uses a Greek chorus of church ladies to introduce a teenage girl who has lost her mother, the pastor’s son she loves and their badly kept secret that haunts the community -- and the two of them -- for years.
At 17, after the suicide of her mother, Nadia Turner falls for Luke Sheppard, who dropped out of college after a serious injury ended his football career. Nadia’s grieving father throws himself into work for the church; Nadia throws herself into Luke, hanging around Fat Charlie’s Seafood Shack, where he works. “She thought her advanced classes might scare Luke off, but he liked that she was smart. See this girl right here, he’d tell a passing waiter, first black lady president, just watch. Every black girl who was even slightly gifted was told this. But she liked listening to Luke brag.” (TNS)
By Connie Ogle