This is the kind of book where you bring it to your doctor's appointment and hope there's a really long wait so you can keep reading. The story is narrated by a group of "Mothers," elderly women at the community's church who observe and gossip like a group of modern day Fates. The story revolves around the congregation of a predominately black community in Southern California and how it is impacted by the suicide of one of its members. The suicide occurs before the start of the story, so the Mothers focuses on Nadia, the daughter of the dead woman. I really do not want to spoil the story, but I think it is one of the best novels I have read, and will read, all year. Hands down. The book begins:
We didn't believe when we first heard because you know how church folk can gossip.
Like the time we all thought First John, our head usher, was messing around on his wife because Betty, the pastor's secretary, caught him cozying up at brunch with another woman...
It just sucks you in from the start. The way in which the narrative spun - in and out of the perspective of the "Mothers," of Nadia, of Luke, the son of the pastor, and Aubrey, Nadia's best friend and Church volunteer. The novel flits through time - focusing on the summer before Nadia goes off to college, when she returns for Aubrey's wedding, when they are fully-fledged adults... Again, no spoilers here. But it is an emotionally charged, and wholly absorbing read. This is Brit Bennett's debut novel. In 2014, Bennett wrote an essay "I Don't Know What to Do With Good White People," which went viral (and you should read) and got her the attention of a literary agent. In an interview with Vogue, Bennett says "The experience of being black in this country is so complicated. All the different ways you see yourself refracted, all the different ways that you have to see yourself and navigate yourself and your body. That to me is always the direction I want to go with my writing.” And while I cannot say how much she put herself into these characters in this story, I can say that if you read one book this year, I think this should be it.