The kids are not alright: A review of The Push by Ashley Audrain

First off, I have to preface that while this book was unsettling throughout, the end was absolutely explosive. I was left with this total WTF moment — and trust me, it takes a LOT to do that nowadays — but in the best way. It’s hard to believe that this is Audrain’s debut novel because she writes with such force and emotion that I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable while reading, which I think was exactly the point.

Quick synopsis: New mother Blythe wants to be the mother she never had — but when her first child Violet is born, Blythe is convinced that something isn’t right about her and fails to connect with her as most mothers do. No one, including her husband, seems to believe her worries about Violet. Several years later when her second child Sam is born, Blythe has that special connection she always dreamed about. But when unspeakable tragedy occurs, she is forced to face her worst fears about motherhood, Violet, and herself.

This psychological family drama/domestic suspense forced me to question every preconceived notion about motherhood. Blythe, the narrator, is far from reliable, which was further reinforced by the book’s second-person narrative, as we clearly are only shown her point of view. I was constantly questioning what was real and what was fake, especially around the book’s focal tragedy. For the rest of the book, I was wrestling with how much blame can Blythe’s husband, their daughter, or her family history have on the ensuing tragedies that the book is centered on? Or is it Blythe herself who is to blame?

This book did an amazing job showing that motherhood is far from perfect and battling the societal idea that motherhood is the highest ideal of womanhood. It also addressed the unbelievability of women — what will it take for Blythe, a woman and mother, to have her wildest fears and motherly instincts taken seriously? And the less others believe her, the more she even questions herself, a gaslighting tactic that I’d argue many women have experienced at some time or another. Additionally, it made me question the idea of what makes someone a good mother. And is being a “good mother” learned or inherited?

This book is far from cheery and certainly shows the ugliest sides of motherhood, from conception to birth to raising them into personhood. It was deeply unsettling but in a way that made me admire Audrain’s abilities as a writer — I still can’t believe this is her debut novel.

This book, however, does need to come with basically every trigger warning possible. It’s likely a difficult read for anyone with a heart, but it does hit on many issues that could be traumatic to readers. But for anyone looking for a deeply unsettling, though-provoking, and well-written read that will really challenge your typical view on motherhood, I recommend this fast-paced psychological thriller.

CW: childbirth, parent-child abuse, violence, death of a child, severe and postpartum depression… and I’m sure there’s still some I’m missing 

The Push is published by Pamela Dorman Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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