Brit Bennett definitely stirs the pot of modern day literature with her FIRST novel-No, Scratch that – she attempts to make a Giant Splash! A Giant Splash is exactly what she did with “The Mothers”. Literary nerds- myself included- are raving about this new piece! She even made it on CBC Book’s BEST Books of 2016 List.
The novel revolves around the friendship between two motherless teens, Nadia and Aubrey; and how their lives become impacted by Luke, the pastor’s son. Narration is provides by Church going women- although we are cautioned against trusting them “after all you know how Church folk can gossip.”
The novel opens with the narrators alluding to the notion that Nadia got knocked up by Luke and went to the abortion clinic. Gasp! This is afterall South Carolina, in the depth of a community heavily influenced by the Church. Some readers would argue that the novel’s juiciest meat is that Nadia got knocked up- however, I don’t think that is the case. Bennett offers this news at the very beginning of the book, why would she offer up the center of her novel so easily? No, I think the novel revolves around much more complex issues- issues shared by motherless coloured teens.
We learn how troubled Nadia is in the absence of her mother who committed suicide. No effort is made to give Nadia an explanation of her mother’s actions; she ends up having a sense of displacement throughout the novel and longs for a “perfect” life. In fact, it is this sense of displacement and urge for an escape that draws Nadia towards Luke…and her longing for a sense of belonging that attracts her to Aubrey.
Aubrey is a quiet, shy girl who volunteers at the Church out of choice. Nothing is known of her origins- as she lives with her sister and her girlfriend. We later learn that Aubrey was forced to leave her mother’s place thanks to her mother’s boyfriend’s sexual urges. Aubrey envies Nadia, a beautiful girl, who appears to have everything under control- and belongs in the community.
Both girls appear to be opposite of each other, Aubrey- shy and Church going; Nadia- outgoing and party going. Their personalities seem to clash, however, Bennett draws them into a beautiful friendship. It is through this friendship that they both overcome their misconceptions about each other and offer a place of belonging. Their friendship is impacted by actions of the male characters in the novel.
The male characters in the book play minor roles, and serve as background noise- noise that still has a huge impact on the lives of the female characters. Problems faced with men are hinted on in regards to Luke’s immaturity and infidelity. How many times have you heard that men need to grow up? Exactly.
Bennett also hints at racial divisions in the community. When the “White girl” nervously drives Nadia home from the clinic, and attempts to make small talk- she is SURPRISED when Nadia says she plans to go to University of Michigan.(What a Shout Out to U of Michigan!) The “white girl” confirms-almost patronizes her decision by saying it is a good school. Please! Do you think a person would want to go to an unworthy school? And Why- just why are you surprised that someone is planning on going to university?
Bennett tactfully hints at various issues throughout the novel, without expanding on them- why? They are an everyday experience for many of her readers. The only criticism I have of the novel is the ending. I was disappointed as it seemed rushed and very disorganized. Perhaps this was intentional- keep in mind, I like things to be tied in little nice bows- and this was a novel that didn’t give me my little nice bow. Regardless, this is a definitely a must read. I have great hopes for her next novels!