Black Cake [Book Review]

February 1, 2022

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (cover) white text over a background of various multicolored graphic shapes

Genre/Categories: Contemporary/Historical Fiction, Complicated Family Drama, Adoption, California/Caribbean/London

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Summary:

Thanks #NetGalley @RandomHouse for a complimentary eARC of #BlackCake upon my request. all opinions are my own.

On the occassion of their mother’s passing, Byron and Benny are left with their mother’s voice recording and specific instructions: they are to listen to it together in its entirety and in the presence of the family lawyer. In addition, they are to share the “black cake” (Caribbean rum soaked fruit cake) in the freezer when the time is right, and they’ll know when it is the right time. Byron and Benny were close as children and grew up in a loving home, but they have grown apart as adults. In fact, Benny hasn’t seen the family in twenty years. Can they overcome their bitterness and deal with the secrets their Mom shares about her history? Will a secret sibling add further complications to an already strained relationship?

a slice of black cake

My Thoughts:

Lots to Love! Black Cake checked so many of my boxes for a memorable read! Complicated family dynamics  + sibling relationships + a secret sister+ well drawn, likable characters + a pageturning plot + escape + reconciliation + compelling themes. An all around engaging read!

Families are interesting and complicated! My mom and aunt kept a secret for decades about a child in my family placed for adoption. I met this baby (my cousin) when we were both older adults. She is now an integral part of our family and we are close. The older generation keeps lots of secrets! I really connected with this part of the story line! Does your family have secrets?

Writing: Even though the story is told from multiple perspectives and jumps between present and past and from location to location, I was never confused. I feel like the story was revealed smoothly and I appreciate the various perspectives. I think the brother and sister relationship is well told and the rivalry and jealousy and misunderstandings are realistic and understandable. The author creates a strong sense of place (especially for the Caribbean passages) and vivid details and descriptions help you feel like you are there making the black cake and facing the threats.

Main Character: Even though the mother has passed, the author reveals her story throughout the book in flashbacks and it feels like Eleanor Bennet is a main character. Eleanor is an incredibly strong person who reinvents herself multiple times in order to survive. I admire her courage, determination, and resourcefulness. Yes, you might question her decision to keep a big secret but we come to realize that she was doing the best she could at the time and was fearful that her secrets would destroy her beloved family.

Themes: Thoughtful themes include silbling relationships, parental secrets, traditional food, family dynamics, found family, unplanned pregnancy/adoption, rebuilding your life, resentment, regret, forgiveness, and reconcilliation.

Highly recommended: I’m enthusiastically recommending Black Cake for fans of family drama and likable characters, for those looking for diverse reads, for readers who have spent time in the Carribean, and for bookclubs. Lots to discuss here! Some reviewers have felt that there is a lot going on in this story (and there is)…maybe too much….but I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I thought each issue fit with the story and was well developed….not simply thrown in to address hot topics.

***contains spoilers***
Content Consideration:
reference to a sexual assault that results in pregnancy, workplace harrassment

My Rating:  4.5-5 Stars


Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (cover) Image: white text over a multicolored graphic shapes background

Black Cake Information Here

Meet the Author, Charmaine Wilkerson

Author Charmaine WilkersonCharmaine Wilkerson is an American writer who has lived in Jamaica and is now based in Italy. A graduate of Barnard College and Stanford University, she is a former journalist whose award-winning short stories have appeared in various magazines and anthologies. Black Cake is her first novel.


Is Black Cake on your TBR?

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Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

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  1. Have been seeing this book on all sorts of reading lists! I especially love family stories and was glad to see “likable characters!” Thanks for the info Carol — it’s on my list! And–

  2. Just finished “Where the Light Fell” new memoir of Philip Yancy, another family story. I’ve read may of his very helpful books, so this was really interesting!

  3. I do enjoy stories about families and secrets and this ticks the boxes. I could kick myself for turning down the invitation I got for this book. I definitely want to read this one and am on the list at the library. Excellent review, Carol.

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  5. I am almost done listening to this book and am really liking it. I chose it because of your review. It flows well and I never have trouble remembering what came before.

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