Book club guide: "The Mothers" by Brit Bennett discussion questions and menu
From time to time, we all wonder what parallel lives we may have lived if we made different choices. The Mothers is a meditation on this exact speculation — as well as a study of love and friendship and secrets — that makes for perfect book club fodder.
It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance — and the subsequent cover-up — will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, 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.
In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a “what if” can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.
"THE MOTHERS" DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
> Why do you think Bennett chose use the Greek chorus of church mothers as a narration device? What did it add to the novel? How would the novel have been different without it?
> What are some of the expectations the older generation has for the younger? In what way do Nadia, Aubrey, or Luke conform to these expectations, and in what ways do they flaunt them?
> Nadia wonders at her father, “Didn’t he know by now that you could never truly know another person?” (Hardcover, 265) This is a central theme of the book. Do you agree or disagree with this idea? Why or why not?
> “She didn’t feel unburdened by sharing hard truths. Hard truths never lightened.” (Hardcover, 177) This was Aubrey’s reasoning for never sharing her past abuse with Nadia—why do you think Nadia didn’t share her hard truth with Aubrey until she was forced to?
> “Maybe you didn’t know who you would be in the world. Maybe you were a different person everywhere you lived.” (Hardcover, 158) In the context of this quote, why do you think Bennett chose to set the novel almost entirely in Oceanside, especially since Nadia makes a deliberate choice to leave?
> How did Nadia, Aubrey, and Luke each change and grow throughout the course of the novel? All three of them had major events that shaped them before the novel began, but what were some of the major inflection points for each of them during the course of the novel?
Penguin Random House also provides excellent discussion questions for The Mothers, so I wanted to include a few of those here:
> Nadia is a black teen who goes to a black church but a mostly white school, on the edge of a military base. She comports herself slightly differently in these different worlds. Luke, her boyfriend, is a young black man from the same school and community, but when he ends up in the hospital, he becomes conscious of how the wonderful Hispanic male nurse suffers from others’ stereotypes. How does the author approach identity in relation to race? How must Nadia change the way she interacts with people inside or outside of her community?
> The Mothers also functions as a meditation on grief. As Nadia mourns her own mother’s recent suicide, she finds solace in her friend Aubrey, in her work at the church, and in the way she must work through her decision to terminate her pregnancy. As Nadia maneuvers the adolescent world and beyond, how does her grief change her? Do you think it ultimately strengthens her? Weakens her?
When you get together with your club to discuss The Mothers, you'll want this menu of tart-but-refreshing items within arm's reach.