Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett's mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. 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 our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season."
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 Mothersasks 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 by Brit Bennett: Mothers and Daughters
What’s it about? The Mothers by Brit Bennett is a debut novel about mothers and daughters and community. “The Mothers”–the elderly women who form the backbone of Upper Room Chapel in Oceanside, California–represent the community. Their voices frame the story of two young women navigating the world after mother loss.The Mothers is about secrets–keeping them and sharing them–and how either course of action impacts relationships. It’s a story of the choices women face when motherhood arrives. And so it’s about CHOICE—-the debate over a woman’s right to it and the personal impact of making it.
Why did I read it? The Motherswas one of 2016’s most buzzy fiction debuts. That caught my attention, as did the Southern California setting. The novel’s premise is nothing too unusual for literary fiction. However, I haven’t often seen it filtered through a Black perspective, and I was curious. (That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been happening, of course, which is why I’ve been working on broadening my reading.)
THE MOTHERS And the Choices
What worked for me? Bennett shifts the narrative perspectives between three characters over the course of a decade.
Nadia Turner remains haunted by the choice she made at 17 to remain on her college-bound path out of Oceanside. Meanwhile, her friend Aubrey Evans struggles to feel rooted in their church community and her relationship with Luke Sheppard, the pastor’s son. And Luke and Nadia have a history they’d both rather keep quiet. I was more invested in the women, but I was impressed by how well Bennett develops all of them. She has a good ear for dialogue and a strong feel for the emotional complexities between women.
I also appreciated how The Mothers filters some big issues–loyalty, morality, questions of privilege and class–through one Black church community.
What wasn’t so great? I read The Mothersin audio, and while I thought Adenrele Ojo’s narration was fine, nothing about the performance really stood out for me. Having said that, I wouldn’t have minded if the book was longer–I’d have liked more of this story!
Recommended? Yes! And not just by me:
THE MOTHERS: Book Thoughts From Other Places
From Vogue: “The Mothers begins with Nadia’s abortion, an experience often missing from consideration in our culture’s stories about women or shorthanded as a tragic plot point. Here, it’s given the emotional resonance it deserves, setting the scene for a book about growing up amid absences, both emotional and cultural. At the same time, it demolishes the stereotype of absentee African-American fathers; Nadia’s father is both present and, like all of the novel’s characters, complexly human. The novel finds its focus in the unlikely friendship that develops between Nadia and another motherless girl, Aubrey, the sweet to Nadia’s spiky—and in the many ways in which women nurture, and sometimes betray, one another.”
From The Washington Post: “Bennett doesn’t ignore the broader racial situation in the United States. Her characters talk about the pain of hoping an unborn baby is a girl. ‘Black boys are target practice,’ one says. ‘At least black girls got a chance.’ They also acknowledge the problems in their community, including drugs, alcohol and domestic abuse. Some of the most simultaneously funny and painful sections involve the church mothers talking about men, and in those conversations we see resignation and rage about how societal ills have poisoned gender roles. The genius of The Mothers is how Bennett uses those feelings in service to a story that could take place in any part of American society.”
In the darkness of the club, you could be alone with your grief. Her father had flung himself into Upper Room. He went to both services on Sunday mornings, to Wednesday night Bible study, to Thursday night choir practice although he did not sing, although practices were closed but nobody had the heart to turn him away. Her father propped his sadness on a pew, but she put her sad in places no one could see.
The bartender shrugged at her fake ID and mixed her a drink and she sat in dark corners, sipping rum-and-Cokes and watching women with beat bodies spin on stage. Never the skinny, young girls—the club saved them for weekends or nights—just older women thinking about grocery lists and child care, their bodies stretched and pitted from age. Her mother would’ve been horrified at the thought—her in a strip club, in the light of day—but Nadia stayed, sipping the watery drinks slowly.
I had hoped to get Readings for the Resistance, February 2017 (Part 2) up last week, but job transitioning took precedence. (On that note, today is officially my first day as Chief Financial Officer at Aviva Family and Childen’s Services.) The delay just gave me more time to collect links!
“The greatest tragedy right now is that you believe that we are the enemy or that we believe thatyouare the enemy. We don’t believe that you are; nor is faith, family, security, safety, or whatever you treasure because chances are we probably treasure it too.That’s how Humanity works. Hatred is the enemy, bigotry is the enemy, injustice is the enemy, isolation is the enemy, inequality is the enemy. It is againstthesethings that we resist, in whatever form they take and from wherever they originate and whatever religious or political affiliation conceives them.”
Some of you may have already seen this on social media, but I had some big news last week:
After nearly 14 years as Controller with Aviva Family and Children’s Services, I’m excited to share the news that I am moving up into the role of Chief Financial Officer as of February 20!
I’ll officially start as Interim CFO, transitioning into my new responsibilities as I start handing off my current ones. I am grateful for this opportunity and hopeful that I’ll rise to it.
Wish me luck, y’all!
The CFO I’ve worked with for over eleven years resigned a few weeks ago to move to a similar position with another agency, and I saw a “now or never” opportunity. I’m part of the executive team now. I’ll be doing less number-crunching, but I’m trading that for a lot more meetings! And I’ll have to put tasks I’ve done comfortably and competently into the hands of other people. I’m excited and apprehensive about making this change.
At least in the short term, the change in the job is also going to mean changes for the blog, too.
The Blog, It Is A-Changin’….
I’m just over a month away from marking the tenth birthday of The 3 R’s Blog, and I do NOT intend for that to be its last! However, I think it’s going to be a quieter place, at least for the next several months.
The biggest change right now is that the Readings for the Resistance roundup I’ll be posting later this week will probably be the last one for awhile. I’m really enjoying putting it together, but it requires a lot of online reading to prepare it and a couple of hours to compile it. I’ve been used to having quiet time at my desk to read between tasks, but I think that’s going to change in a hurry. I could spend time catching up on evenings and weekends, of course, but I also want time for other reading…not to mention things that aren’t reading. Being able to browse and skim online reading without an agenda will take some pressure off.
Other content will appear when I have time to create it. That’s a pretty non-committal commitment, but it’s all I want to make until I have a better idea what my new normal looks like.
Reading, ‘Riting, and…Well, You Know
Even with the new full-time job, I still want to keep my “one-review-a-month” Shelf Awareness job. I have a March review due to them this week. Meanwhile, I’m two reviews behind here on the blog, but I’m trying not to fall further back. I didn’t get very far with any offline reading last week and I’m between audiobooks, so I have some room to catch up. This is my reading journal, and I have no intention of changing that!
What We Do Now: Standing Up for Your Values in Trump’s America: essays(ebook)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund: fiction (galley, pub date January 2017
A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman: memoir (galley, pub date February 2917)
Read and Not Yet Reviewed:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett(audio)
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (audio)
And just because I think it’s been a while, here’s a gratuitous Winchester photo!
Today’s Agenda: We may bite the bullet and tackle our income taxes. And/or see The LEGO Batman Movie. What are you up to this weekend?
The Princess Diarist is Carrie Fisher’s intimate, hilarious and revealing recollection of what happened behind the scenes on one of the most famous film sets of all time, the first Star Wars movie.
When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a (sort-of) regular teenager.
With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes. And today, as she reprises her most iconic role for the latest Star Wars trilogy, Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.
Carrie Fisher was on tour promoting her last book, The Princess Diarist, when she suffered the cardiac episode that led to her death. This was her third memoir, built around the journal she kept while filming the original Star Wars. I started listening to the audiobook in early December. I set it aside when Bruce Springsteen’s memoir came along. At the time, I wasn’t sure I’d go back and finish it. Then Carrie Fisher died. I not only returned to finish The Princess Diarist, I bought her two earlier memoirs and read them too.
Tales from Carrie Fisher’s Hollywood
Fisher’s first memoir, Wishful Drinking, grew out of her one-woman show of the same name. It was Fisher’s first foray into nonfiction after nearly two decades as a novelist and screenwriter. After years of struggling with bipolar disorder and addiction, she started electroconvulsive therapy (shock treatment). ECT helped Fisher’s mental health but hurt her memory, inspiring her to start documenting. Perhaps because it began as a performance piece, Wishful Drinking is largely anecdotal and occasionally repetitive. It’s also a very funny, very specific account of growing up in Hollywood and unexpectedly becoming the face of one of the best-known characters in movie history.
Fisher’s second memoir, Shockaholic, covers some of the same ground as Wishful Drinking, but it goes deeper. It’s still funny, but it’s more revealing and feels emotionally braver. Reading all of these books in audio, I was struck by the literal difference in Fisher’s voice between recording Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic. This was probably another effect of ECT. On her first memoir, she still sounded like Princess Leia, just older. By the second, her voice had acquired the rasp and change in pitch familiar from her talk-show appearances during the last few years.
The Princess Diarist
Both of Fisher’s earlier memoirs gave space to Star Wars, of course, but it’s the focus of her last one. Fisher was just 19 when she was cast as Princess Leia and went to England to spend three months making the movie that would change pop culture forever. (It’s probably a good thing no one involved had any idea, going in, that this would happen.) She was already a journaler by then, so naturally, she kept a diary during the shoot. She found the long-forgotten notebook in a box a couple of years ago. It became the basis for The Princess Diarist, but it makes up a surprisingly small portion of the book.
And that may be just as well. The diary is a 19-year-old’s journal, complete with poetry. It’s short on behind-the-scenes details from the set. (If that’s your thing, look to another Cary and his Inconceivable Tales From the Making of “The Princess Bride”.) However, it’s rich in the emotional experiences and impressions of a young woman having an affair with her older married co-star. Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd reads the diary on the audiobook; her younger voice is more appropriate to the material than Fisher’s own.
Fisher fleshes out the diary in the chapters leading up to it and follows it with reflections on how Star Wars changed her life. In some ways, The Princess Diarist is, in some ways, the story of Fisher’s relationship with Princess Leia. She will appear in that role for the final time in Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi(December 2017).
Carrie Fisher was an actor and a writer born and raised in Hollywood, She was a sharp observer and a fearless truth-teller, She died suddenly, and too soon, on December 27, 2016. For two-thirds of her life, she was a princess–and as a princess, she will live on as an icon.
I liked Carrie Fisher and I loved Princess Leia. I’ll miss them both. If you’d like to spend a little more time with them, all three of Fisher’s memoirs are quick reads, and you should let her read them all to you in audiobook.
When 30-year-old Dawn reads Miranda’s email, she sees red. People have always told Dawn she’s beautiful, and she just hopes they don’t see beneath—to how she grew up, to what she’s always tried to outrun. She revels in her getaways with her perfect (maybe too perfect) husband, the occasional long weekend in luxurious homes, temporarily inhabiting other people’s privileged lives. Miranda’s email strikes a nerve, with its lying intimation that Dawn is so dirty you need to throw out her sheets.
57-year-old Miranda thought she’d seen it all, but she can’t believe her eyes when she reads Dawn’s review. She’s a doctor’s wife but she needs that rental money, desperately. People might think her life is privileged, but they don’t know what’s really going on. They don’t know about her son. She won’t take this threat to her livelihood—to her very life—lying down.
Two very different women with this in common: Each harbors her own secret, her own reason why she can’t just let this go. Neither can yield, not before they’ve dredged up all that’s hidden, even if it has the power to shatter all they’ve built.
This is not over.
This is so not over.
THIS IS NOT OVER by Holly Brown explores the risks on both sides of the transaction when one stranger rents her home to another.
Despite a local law against short-term rentals, Miranda has been listing her parents’ old Santa Monica beach house on Getaway.com, and she had no trouble with any of her guests before Dawn and Rob. The couple, for their part, has been enjoying their stays in other people’s luxurious homes and never had problems with a host until now.
When Miranda withholds Dawn’s deposit due to damages that Dawn swears she didn’t cause, the accusation triggers her insecurities and raises her defenses. Defensiveness puts Dawn on the attack. She posts a negative review of Miranda and the property on Getaway.com; then it’s Miranda’s turn to defend herself, pressuring Dawn to take it down. Miranda needs good reviews to keep the rental occupied, and she needs it occupied so she can continue secretly funneling money to her son, a drug addict who swears he’s clean but whose father has refused to support him anymore.
Switching perspective back and forth between Dawn and Miranda, Brown gradually reveals elements of their personal histories that give context to the escalating battle between them. Both women are trying to keep troubled pasts under wraps, but as the dispute over the rental house gets under their skins, their self-protective images start coming apart. This Is Not Over also comes apart a bit in the end, but it’s a suspenseful psychological drama along the way–one that might make you think twice about lining up that online rental for your next vacation.
“Please note: It is April 23, 2014. You’ll have your deposit within seven business days, just like it says on Getaway.com. I’ve put through a refund to your credit card for the full amount, minus $200 to replace the sheets. I couldn’t get the stain out despite professional laundering and bleaching, and it was rather large (gray, about the size and shape of a typical housecat, though the house rental didn’t allow pets.) That’s neither here nor there. At any rate, I already told you about this.
That’s it, the entire e-mail. No Dear Dawn or I’m sorry you had to stalk me to get your deposit or Sincerely or All the best. Just Miranda. And does she really think I don’t know today’s date?
I haven’t felt anger like this in I don’t know how long. No, I know how long. Since before Rob. He’s the antidote for all my inadequacies. I’m good enough because I have him in my life. Because I’m the woman he loves. I’m that woman now.
Stop reading. Stop rereading.
But I can’t.
I’m sitting at my battle-scarred kitchen table, staring at the screen of my five-year-old laptop in my one-bedroom apartment in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Oakland (soon we’ll be priced out), and I’ve been struck dumb. A stain the size and shape of a housecat? Like my husband and I are, collectively, Pigpen from Peanuts, and we leave a cloud of ash in our wake?
I’m an honorable (enough) person, and for sure, Rob is. If we’d ruined Miranda’s sheets, we would’ve owned up to it. I would’ve contacted her myself, apologized profusely and said, “Take my deposit, please.” No, I would have bleached the sheets, and if that hadn’t worked, I would have run out to the nearest Target in a state of abject mortification and bought a new set (because those were not $200 sheets, I promise you that.)
I have several different, but not opposing, goals for these “Readings for the Resistance” roundups. Some of the posts and articles I’ll share are practical–they advise or offer support. Some are analytical–they provide background and context for recent events. They’re stories I found thought-provoking, or provocative (not necessarily the same thing), or perspective-shifting.
I collect more links over the course of a week than I include in these posts. And there are links I don’t save for these posts at all–if they’re addressing what’s literally the “news of the day,” they go out on social media and don’t wait for this.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that things have only been like this for a little over two weeks.
Because it’s important to try to understand who we’re dealing with…
“We’re worried that the discrimination, lies, violence, racism, misogyny, fascism, overstepping authority, embarrassing statements, threats, bans, white supremacy, dismantling the system, and belligerence are the New Normal. They’re not, though. They’re the New Temporary. As the New Temporary they’re truly disgusting, but they’ll only become the New Normal if we stop fighting and working and pushing as hard as we can.
“The real New Normal here is who we’re becoming in the middle of this.
“Who are you now that you weren’t on November 7? I bet you have more layers, more resilience, more compassion, more strength, and better boundaries now than you did then.”
The “Readings for the Resistance” link roundup will be a recurring feature here at The 3 R’s Blog for as long as conditions make it necessary. It may be a while, folks. My Facebook feed is even more political now than it was before the election. This is definitely not normal.
“No one thinks Bane is the hero of Batman stories. No one watches The Dark Knight Rises and thinks Hey, they should let that Bane guy be in charge for a while. I’m sure he totally has Gotham’s best interests at heart. No! They see him for the unstable villain he is, see through his clear manipulation, and root for Batman to take him down.
“Yet when Trump uses Bane’s words and evokes the same feelings…yay? What a strong leader?”
On Haven, a six-mile long, half-mile-wide stretch of barrier island, Mira Banul and her Year-Rounder friends have proudly risen to every challenge. But then a superstorm defies all predictions and devastates the island, upending all logic and stranding Mira's mother and brother on the mainland. Nothing will ever be the same. A stranger appears in the wreck of Mira's home. A friend obsessed with vanishing disappears. As the mysteries deepen, Mira must find the strength to carry on—to somehow hold her memories in place while learning to trust a radically reinvented future. Gripping and poetic, This Is the Story of You is about the beauty of nature and the power of family, about finding hope in the wake of tragedy and recovery in the face of overwhelming loss.
This Is The Story of A Storm
Author Beth Kephart has a long and intimate acquaintance with the Jersey Shore. Her 2016 young-adult novel This Is The Story of You responds to the devastation caused there by Superstorm Sandy in the autumn of 2012.
The small island of Haven sits just off the New Jersey coast. It’s a popular summer getaway spot, but when fall arrives, the year-round population breathes a sigh of relief and gets back to normal life. Normal life on Haven doesn’t usually include the prospect of weather-related destruction.
Mira Banul, her little brother Jasper Lee, and her mother Mickey are Year-Rounders. Jasper Lee is a special kid. He does special things like collecting sand in little bottles. “This is the story of you,” he writes one each one, explaining each sample to itself. He’s biologically special too: he has Hunter syndrome, a rare genetic condition caused by a missing enzyme. Their mom is raising them alone, working multiple part-time jobs to support her children and care for her sickly son. When Mickey takes Jasper Lee to the hospital for a routine medical treatment, complications require them to stay overnight. Meanwhile, Mira is at home, alone, preparing to face a hurricane.
This Is The Story of A Community
The storm completely cuts off Haven from the mainland as phones and bridges go out. Mira shelters in place, gathering her family’s treasures–including Jasper Lee’s sand collection–and a stray cat in her room at the top of their house. When the weather finally subsides, she finds the rest of the house has flooded and the island outside it is barely recognizable. The town needs help from outside and has no idea when or how it will arrive. In the meantime, Haven’s survivors search each other out and start doing what they can to recover and rebuild.
I have liked every Beth Kephart book I’ve ever read, but I’ve loved a few, especially when they’ve surprised me. This IsThe Story of You surprised me in all the best ways. Kephart’s writing style tends to be impressionistic and occasionally approaches stream of consciousness. However, when she employs it to tell as concrete and focused as the one here, it’s something remarkable. Here, she brings readers into a community in crisis, accompanying a scared yet resourceful teenage girl discovering what she can, and can’t, do alone.
“Like so many of us who experienced Superstorm Sandy, I could live just fine never revisiting the issue. This young adult novel is a perfect blend…mixing the real terror of the storm and how it tore about Long Beach Island and the deep friendship among girls. After the storm, ‘nothing was what it had been, but it had been. We were all castaways, looking for a part of the big confusing kingdom to call our own, and to protect.'”
This is the affecting, resonating story of a storm I was looking for.
Meg Little Reilly places a young couple in harm’s way—both literally and emotionally—as they face a cataclysmic storm that threatens to decimate their Vermont town, and the Eastern Seaboard in her penetrating debut novel, WE ARE UNPREPARED.
Ash and Pia move from hipster Brooklyn to rustic Vermont in search of a more authentic life. But just months after settling in, the forecast of a superstorm disrupts their dream. Fear of an impending disaster splits their tight-knit community and exposes the cracks in their marriage. Where Isole was once a place of old farm families, rednecks and transplants, it now divides into paranoid preppers, religious fanatics and government tools, each at odds about what course to take.
WE ARE UNPREPARED is an emotional journey, a terrifying glimpse into the human costs of our changing earth and, ultimately, a cautionary tale of survival and the human
WE ARE UNPREPARED for the Coming Storm
What’s it about? We Are Unprepared, a debut novel by Meg Little Reilly, explores the dramatic impact of climate change on a small Vermont town.
Ash and Pia left gentrifying Brooklyn to live more “authentically” in Ash’s native Vermont. They’re just settling into their new town and fixer-upper house when the forecasts start coming. The winter will bring the East Coast a storm like nothing anyone’s ever seen. Blizzards, gales, and floods are on the way and people need to prepare. Ash joins a local committee working on a controversial damage-control plan, while Pia falls in with the catastrophic mindset of the town’s survivalist “prepper” community. The couple’s differing responses to the coming crisis and the tension of waiting for it to arrive expose the widening gaps in their marriage.
Why did I read it? Everyone talks about the weather, but we still can’t do much about it when it happens. However, we’re learning more about how we impact how it happens.Climate change is a thing. The jacket copy for We Are Unprepared suggested a novel exploring one specific and plausible event driven by its effects. I picked up this galley at Book Expo last spring, intrigued by the idea.
No Matter How Much We Prepare, We May Never Be Ready
What worked for me? I thought Reilly effectively captured the weird blend of urgency and tedium in getting ready for something big to happen…and then waiting for it to happen. And when The Storm finally hit, it brought plenty of drama along with it.
What didn’t I like? The more personal drama before and after The Storm was, frankly, not always that interesting. We Are Unprepared shakily straddles the line between “natural disaster thriller” and character-driven literary fiction. Ash’s first-person narration often drifts toward navel-gazing, and we don’t get much insight into other characters as seen through his eyes. As I mentioned, this is a debut novel, and Reilly may have simply been overreaching with it.
IT WOULD BE narcissistic to assume that the earth conjured a storm simply to alter the course of my life. More likely, we’d been poisoning this world for years while ignoring the warning signs, and The Storm wasn’t so much a cosmic intervention as it was a predictable response to our collectively reckless behavior. Either way, the resulting destruction— to North America and our orderly life in Isole—arrived so quickly that I swear we didn’t see it coming.
Looking back, I realize how comforting those months leading up to The Storm had been as we focused on preparing for the disaster. News of the changing weather patterns gave each of our lives a new clarity and direction. It didn’t feel enjoyable at the time, but it was a big, concrete distraction in which to pour ourselves, even as other matters could have benefited from our attention. It was urgent, and living in a state of urgency can be invigorating. But the fear can be mistaken for purpose, which is even more dangerous than the threat itself.