The Moth­ers: A Novel

By – April 3, 2013

It’s pri­mal and close to uni­ver­sal — the need to nur­ture, to par­ent, to pro­vide a safe haven for a child while open­ing doors to the world beyond. With­out that dri­ve, in at least a fair-sized pro­por­tion of the human race, there would be no future, no hope. But when a cou­ple wish­es to do exact­ly that, in a healthy, sta­ble, mature, rea­soned way and biol­o­gy fights back, it opens the door to painful long­ing and frus­tra­tion beyond descrip­tion. Jenni­fer Gilmore has found the words to voice that pain in her new nov­el that reads much like a mem­oir. After years of try­ing to con­ceive, using every bit of tech­nol­o­gy avail­able to mod­ern sci­ence, Jesse and Ramon, Gilmore’s young pro­tag­o­nist cou­ple, decide to adopt and they embark on a jour­ney with a whole new set of obsta­cles, frus­tra­tions, and ago­niz­ing choic­es. They nav­i­gate the mud­dy waters of the open adop­tion sys­tem acknowl­edg­ing the angst with­out los­ing their sens­es of humor or their com­mit­ment to one anoth­er. They wor­ry, as prospec­tive par­ents gen­er­al­ly do, about child-rear­ing issues: how their rela­tion­ship will change, how to inte­grate extend­ed fam­i­ly, what to do about reli­gious iden­ti­ty in a mixed-reli­gion mar­riage, what role the child’s birth moth­er will fill, all the while fear­ing that the deep, painful analy­sis of each issue may be for naught. Gilmore scru­ti­nizes and dis­sects the open adop­tion sys­tem with its incon­sis­ten­cies and its some­times not-quite-above-board cast of char­ac­ters but refrains from cyn­i­cism; too much hope resides in every word for real cyni­cism to take hold. When Jesse’s sin­gle sis­ter announces her own unplanned preg­nan­cy, all the issues are thrown into stark relief and emo­tions threat­en to boil over but the hope, the deep, abid­ing, sin­cere, gen­uine hope, the hope that is a bea­con in the uncer­tain dark­ness, nev­er wanes.

The nov­el is based on Gilmore’s real-life expe­ri­ence with the open adop­tion sys­tem and the writ­ing is so real, so imme­di­ate, at times so raw even in its poignant humor, that the read­er goes through an emo­tion­al jour­ney along with the char­ac­ters, expe­ri­enc­ing highs and lows, doubts and con­fi­dence, dis­ap­point­ment and relief. It’s the kind of read­ing-roller-coast­er one expe­ri­ences when read­ing a pas­sion­ate love sto­ry and, although the object of the pas­sion may be as yet unborn, this tru­ly is a love sto­ry in so many sub­tle ways.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Scrib­n­er’s Read­ing Group Guide

1.Discuss The Moth­ers” we meet in the nov­el and Jesse’s rela­tion­ships with each of them. 

2.Jesse and Ramon find them­selves dis­cussing race and drug and alco­hol use as they make their way through the adop­tion process. Talk about the pom-pom exer­cise they did in Raleigh. 

3.Talk about Jesse and Lucy’s rela­tion­ship with Clau­dine. Lucy calls her prac­ti­cal­ly my moth­er” (p.116). What role did Clau­dine play in their lives? Why were they so close to Clau­dine and what does this say about their rela­tion­ship with their own mother? 

4.Heritage plays an impor­tant role in The Moth­ers; Jesse knows the pre­cise details of her dog Harriet’s fam­i­ly tree (p. 61). What are Ramon’s plans for teach­ing their child about his her­itage? Why does this upset Jesse? What does she feel she has to offer? 

5.Jesse takes some time away and meets Ani­ta upstate. Describe Jesse and Anita’s time togeth­er. Were you sur­prised by what hap­pened between them? 

6.In their Birth­moth­er Let­ter Jesse and Ramon describe their inter­ests. Revis­it the pas­sage on p. 112 that shows Tiffany and Crystal’s sug­gest­ed edits. What did you think when you read this? 

7.Jesse was raised Jew­ish. How does her reli­gion play a part in this nov­el? Think about Lydia and how Jesse felt in their first infor­ma­tion­al ses­sion with her (p.135). 

8.While Lucy is in Belize, she calls Jesse and they dis­cuss hap­pi­ness on p. 158 – 159. What makes each of them hap­py? How do you think hap­py moments” are dif­fer­ent from sus­tained hap­pi­ness? Com­pare this with what Jesse con­sid­ers to be the oppo­site of hap­pi­ness (the bot­tom of p. 196). Do you agree? 

9.Throughout the nov­el there are flash­backs to Jesse’s strug­gle with can­cer. How would you com­pare what she went through then with what she is going through now? 

10.Lydia’s home vis­it to Jesse and Ramon’s Brook­lyn apart­ment is a sig­nif­i­cant moment. How would you feel if you had to host a near-stranger in your home charged with eval­u­at­ing your liv­ing space and its appro­pri­ate­ness for a child? How would you prepare? 

11.The moment Jesse sees Lucy for the first time in years, Lucy has phys­i­cal­ly changed. What is dif­fer­ent about her? How does Jesse react? Imag­ine your­self in Jesse’s posi­tion; what would you have done? 

12.Michelle and Jacob’s par­ty in the Catskills is filled with chil­dren. When Jesse finds Ramon alone in the gaze­bo, what does he tell her (see p. 208 – 209)? How does this effect what she’s been feel­ing? Were you sur­prised by Ramon’s reaction? 

13​.In Part 3, Jesse begins to speak with the birth­moth­ers. What hap­pens in their phone calls? What did you think of Kat­ri­na? What does Jesse’s online research tell her about these women? Imag­ine going through the same process, but with­out the Inter­net. Do you think it would be hard­er or eas­i­er? Why? 

14.The adop­tion process puts con­sid­er­able strain on Jesse and Ramon’s rela­tion­ship. What was their rela­tion­ship like before they decid­ed they want­ed chil­dren? How does it evolve? What do you see in their future?