Enjoying Black Cake

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

A Five-Star Book Review

I went in blind when I started reading Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, having only seen rave reviews of this debut novel on Bookstagram. I can say now that those reviews were totally on point. This book is beautiful!

I describe Ms. Wilkerson’s writing as magic, and here’s why.

Why You Should Read Black Cake

It has everything. Sometimes I love a book because of the plot and characters. Sometimes I love it for the author’s writing style. Black Cake is one of the rare finds that has both for me to love. Ms. Wilkerson’s writing ability is on par with the best in contemporary fiction. She builds a narrative that is complex but well-defined, that leaves a mystery and then shows you the truth when you least expect it, that uses sentences and paragraphs and chapters to capture your whole heart.

I love a generational story with multiple timelines, but some books try to do too much across those different narratives. Black Cake is not one of those books. Ms. Wilkerson uses short chapters to shift the storylines and bring all characters to life across decades. The pace of these chapters ebb and flow like the sea, which is nearly a character itself in this book that takes you from an unnamed Caribbean island to the Mod years of London to 2018 in Southern California.

Identity is at the center of Black Cake. Byron Bennet May think he knows who he is, but his sister Benny is still working to find herself. Their parents, Bert and Eleanor, don’t accept Benny’s decision to quit university or her bisexuality, and she’s walked out of their lives in order to find herself. But neither Byron or Benny truly know their parents, as they learn from their mother’s voice recording after her death. Soon, they see that both their parents aren’t who they think they are and have struggled to form their own identities.

Finally, while the core of her novel is about identity, Ms. Wilkerson takes us on a journey that addresses so many social and emotional issues. From today’s climate of racism in the U.S. to sexuality, from environmental protection to assault, from parent-child relationships to colonialism, this book is full of horrors, insights, and calls to action.

I loved this book so much, and I hope you will read and love it, too.

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