Book Review: The Blackwoods

Title: The Blackwoods

Author: Brandy Colbert

Genres:  Contemporary

Pages: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Review Copy: ARC by publisher

Availability: Available now

Summary: The Blackwoods. Everyone knows their name. Blossom Blackwood burst onto the silver screen in 1962, and in the decades that followed, she would become one of the most celebrated actors of our time—and the matriarch of the most famous Black family in Hollywood. To her great-granddaughters, Hollis and Ardith, she has always just been Bebe. And when she passes away, it changes everything. Hollis Blackwood was never interested in fame. Still, she’s surrounded by it, whether at home with her family or at the prestigious Dupree Academy among Los Angeles’ elite.

When private photos of Hollis are leaked in the wake of Blossom’s death, she is thrust into the spotlight she’s long avoided—and finds that trust may be a luxury even she can’t afford. Ardith Blackwood has always lived in the public eye. A television star since childhood, she was perhaps closer with Blossom than anyone—especially after Ardith’s mother died in a drug overdose. Ever since, she has worked to be everything her family, her church, and the public want her to be. But as a family secret comes to light and the pressures from all sides begin to mount, she wonders what is left beneath the face she shows the world.

Weaving together the narratives of Hollis, Ardith, and Blossom, award-winning author Brandy Colbert tells an unforgettable story set in an America where everything is personal, and nothing is private.  

Review: I was talking about Black folk’s movement to Los Angeles with a friend the other day and we were discussing how so many elders from our grandparents generation have so many secrets, I mean, stories that we don’t know and as they pass they take those stories with them to the grave. This idea is at the heart of Brandy Colbert’s newest novel that follows the fallout of a secret that is finally revealed after the matriarch of the family passes away. The Blackwoods, however, are Hollywood royalty so the revelation of the secret has rippling consequences that all happen amid the public eye. 

What makes Colbert’s novel unique is that the story is revealed through Blossom’s story from her mother’s story on the vaudeville stage to how she became a famous star during Hollywood’s Golden Age which wasn’t particularly friendly to Black people. Blossom’s dream of being an actress contradicts the dreams of her boyfriend who wants to get married and have children. Blossom eventually makes the decision to follow her dreams with the support of her mother and sister who help raise her son when she travels to New York to work, creating the secret that had long followed the family – who was the father of Blossom’s son. I really enjoyed traveling on Blossom’s journey as she rose in her career because I really connected with her desire to follow her dream despite the challenges. She had a strong sense of self which allowed her to make hard decisions but to also not allow people to take advantage of her. There were times where she knew the choice she made would hurt her career but she was not willing to sacrifice her integrity and I loved seeing a character represented in such a manner. Blossom is a figure to look up to and I was able to see how she was able to be the matriarch of such a wonderful family. 

In the present time Hollis, Ardith and the rest of their family are dealing with the passing of Blossom. Hollis and Ardith are cousins but are close like sisters, and lead completely different lives. While Hollis loves her family she doesn’t not enjoy being part of a such a public family and prefers to maintain her private life. Ardith has been raised in the spotlight by being the daughter of an actress and being a child actor herself. While she is used to being in public, she does work to maintain a some sense of privacy as she has a public persona and a private persona. For both girls, the revelation of Blossom’s secret upturns their worlds and both have to re-examine who they are and their place in their world. What I loved about these two storylines is how each of the girl’s voices were very distinct yet somewhat similar as after all they’ve been raised in the same family. Hollis experiences heartbreak and grieves not only the loss of her grandmother but also a close relationship, which causes her to do some deep reflection and discover her inner strength. Ardith, on the other hand, was very close to her grandmother and is learning to live life without her. She realizes how insular her social circle is and works to trust people outside her circle and make friends. Both of the girl’s journeys parallel yet contrast Blossom’s journey as you can see how having Blossom’s great-grandchildren gave them the strength to find themselves and their voice. 

The weaving of the three storylines made for a wonderful read which showed how connected the present is to the past and the importance of family.