The Blackwoods by Brandy Colbert
Coming October 3 from HarperCollins; 384 pages
Content warnings: Racism, misogyny, classism, death of parent, death of grandparent, underage drinking and partying, sexual harassment, and leakage of private photos
About the Author: “Brandy Colbert is the award-winning author of several books for children and teens, including Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which was the winner of the 2022 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Nonfiction and a finalist for the American Library Association’s Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award. Her other acclaimed books include Pointe, The Only Black Girls in Town, and Stonewall Book Award winner Little & Lion. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, and her short stories and essays have appeared in several critically acclaimed anthologies for young people. She is on faculty at Hamline University’s MFA program in writing for children, and lives in Los Angeles” (Bio from author’s website).
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Blackwood is a household name, all thanks to Blossom Blackwood, who rose to legendary fame as a movie star in the 60s. But along the way, she hides what is to be her life’s greatest secret, a mystery that the press still buzzes about today. When her secret comes to light after she passes, her grandchildren, Ardith and Hollis, have to grapple with the explosive aftermath, not to mention their own problems. Ardith’s meticulously curated public persona begins to crack from the grief of losing both her mother and grandmother, and Hollis’ private photos—photos only her best friend had—have been leaked. In the dangerously alluring world of Hollywood, who can the Blackwoods trust?
Usually I’m not one to pick up a family saga, but the thrill of spending time in the gilded world of Hollywood, where the real monsters are all too human and how the cost of fame is always too much, will never fail to entice me. Brandy Colbert delivers, peeling back the glamor of the film industry to reveal the cruelty and prejudice that lurks underneath. Beyond that, this story is also one of persistence: how the Blackwoods find love—familial, platonic, and romantic—despite it all. I particularly loved Ardith and Hollis’ storylines! Fame has taught Ardith not to trust anyone, to bear her grief alone, but her coworker, Matty, makes it hard for her to keep those rigid boundaries in place. It’s heartwarming to see their working relationship bloom into a deep friendship and watch her make peace with her long-held grief. Hollis struggles with trusting her (more than) best friend after her nudes are leaked from his phone, and Colbert tackles this issue with a deft and graceful hand. Blossom’s story is an ode to single motherhood, tenacity, and living with the decisions you make. I saw the potential with her story to be a whole separate book, something a little more eviscerating of Hollywood and its injustices, so I wish we spent more time with her! With such a plotline—a Black woman aspiring to be a movie star in the 60s—I wanted to see the full picture, not just snippets of her life. Additionally, at times the plot felt rushed; perhaps fitting three entire stories in one book was an ambitious undertaking. The Blackwoods is by no means a lackluster read, however. If anything, my desire for more just demonstrates how engrossing the novel is! Don’t miss this moving family saga about dealing with grief, learning how to trust yourself, and finding love against the backdrop of Hollywood fame.
(Pine Reads Review would like to thank SparkPoint Studio & NetGalley for sending us a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change before final publication.)
PRR Assistant Director, Aruna Sreenivasan