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.
This is Brit Bennett’s debut novel and boy is it good! What. a. book. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably already know how much I enjoyed this book. My reading experience was made even more enriched because I listened to the audiobook narrated by Adenrele Ojo (she is soo good!). I felt completely immersed in the world of these three young people.
Bennett so accurately conveys the deep ache of regret that engulfs a person when they just can’t seem to put the past behind them, how a failure to confront our grief and past mistakes can easily become a life haunting. My favorite things about this book are manifold but I’ll start with the fact that her characters are so imperfect, so alive and real and you so easily begin to take sides as you read. You quickly realize that no single one of them is ‘right’. She manages to write a book with a central theme that is so controversial without once being preachy or sounding biased, but just tells the story as it is. As you read this book, nothing will prepare you for the level of anxiety you will face and the number of times these characters will make your heart ache.
Another part of this book I enjoyed is Nadia and Aubrey’s friendship against the odds. How two motherless girls build a sisterhood that becomes a healing balm for them both. Their love for each other is staggering at times and yet so simple as true love usually is. There, without reserve, without question. Bennett’s writing betrays how keenly observing of life she is. So many truths are so easily slipped into her storytelling and I caught myself gasping from time to time at all the ways she so perfectly encapsulated a thought or feeling in words.
The book is narrated from the perspective of the gossipy church mothers who are spectators to the lives of the main characters as their story unfolds over about a decade. This fact is in turns my favorite and least favorite thing about the book. Sometimes the mothers are just too much, too judgmental, too hateful and other times almost comical, adding a different edge to the book.
all good secrets have a taste before you tell them.
‘Pretty’ exposes you and ‘pretty’ hides you.
She was startled by how rarely she had been alone back then; her days felt like being handed from person to person like a baton.
Her father propped his sadness on a pew but she put her sadness in places no one could see.
“You know you got see-through eyes? Feels like I can see right through them. Nothing but sad on the other side.”
His seeing her afraid was an intimacy she could not bear.
It startled her how he looked the same as he always had. Shouldn’t someone look different when you’ve caught them in a lie? When you’ve seen them truthfully for the first time?
Boys, they can go around careless their whole lives. You, you can either be careful now or careful later.
Black boys couldn’t afford to be reckless, she had tried to tell him. Reckless white boys became politicians; reckless black boys became dead.
In a way, subtle racism was worse because It made you feel crazy. You were left wondering ‘was that actually racist?’ Had you just imagined it?’
Poorness never left you, she told him. It was a hunger that embedded itself in you. It never left you even when you were full.
Niceness was something anyone could be but goodness was something else altogether.
Sickness burrowed deep inside you and even if you were cured, even if you could be cured you’d never forget how it felt to be betrayed by your own body.
Magic you wanted was a miracle, magic you didn’t want was a haunting.
This is a stunning debut novel and after stalking the author I’ve read that it took her seven years to complete this novel and she never got bored of writing it.
I highly recommend this book. HIGHLY.