The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson is just the right mix of domestic drama, literary fiction, and contemporary fiction that I like. The book begins the evening of former President Obama's election win in 2008 and has themes of motherhood, family ties, racial tension, all set during the political climate at the time. The motherhood themes tugged at my heartstrings and made me strongly connect with the main protagonist. I rooted for her on her journey to uncover the truth, but also sympathized with the main theme that sometimes we lie to those we are closest to, in order to protect them from more harm.
Set during the beginning of the Obama administration, the Black community is renewed with hope and a brighter future. Ruth lives in Chicago with her husband and works as a chemical engineer. They have a comfortable life, but her husband wants to have children. Ruth's past comes bustling back to her as she has to dredge up and confront what happened to her at the age of seventeen. After an unexpected teenage pregnancy, Ruth was forced to leave her baby behind in pursuit of higher education and a better life. Now she wants to know what happened to her baby and returns home to rural Indiana to seek those answers.
So often the books I read are either set several decades ago or are present day time, so it was refreshing to read a book set in the last 2000s for a change. It wasn't that long ago and I can still remember the joy and excitement that Obama's presidential win brought the country. Obama's "hope" slogan rang true, but I also remember the people who were upset and vicious, and the racism and white fragility that followed.
Ruth's story intersects that of a young white boy who goes by the nickname Midnight. Midnight has had a rough past and does not have the most stable home life, as his father has addiction issues and he lives with his grandmother and questionable aunt. Ruth and Midnight form a bond that was so precious and reminiscent of what Ruth missed when she was forced to give up her baby. I loved how the author portrayed this relationship and had it intersect with her search for her long lost baby.
The title is so fitting, The Kindest Lie. Part of being a parent is doing what is best for your child, even if that isn't what is best for you. That could not be more prevalent than what Ruth and her grandmother did for her baby. It also unearths the lies that family members tell each other in order to save the other person from heartbreak. These "kind" lies came out as the plot developed and Ruth evolved as a character as she worked her way through each one.
I highly recommend The Kindest Lie for those who love Brit Bennett's style of writing, particularly The Mothers, as they have similar motherhood themes. I am still shocked that the average star rating on Goodreads is 3.67, because this book was easily 4.5 stars for me and, at times, pushed five stars. That is just another reason not be influenced by shiny star ratings, they aren't always legit.
Content warnings: substance abuse and addiction, traumatic adoption scenario, racism & police brutality towards child
"That's what parents do," Mama continued. "They don't think about themselves. They put the children first."
"A lifetime of lies that started small, a little nick in the windshield, then eventually shattered the glass."
"She thought of both boys and how the world saw each of them in black and white, how they'd be forever defined by that distinction."
"Every mother's choice had repercussions for generations, and it fanned out into a web that could ensnare you or catch you when you slipped. It all depended on how you looked at it."
"She knew they still had unfinished business and a lot to work through to make things right again. But maybe it wasn't about going back to some earlier point in time in their marriage. Maybe you just continued wherever you were, wiser from all you knew, stronger from all the burdens you'd carried."
"Perfect mothers didn't exist, only perfectly flawed ones did."
Read if you liked:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett (click on the title link for my full review)