Review: Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely

Review: Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara NeelyBlanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely
Series: Blanche White #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 2, 2015
Pages: 232
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When Blanche White, black domestic worker extraordinaire, moved north to Boston, she thought it would be a better place to raise her kids, especially when she managed to get them both into a private school. But they appear to be getting as much attitude as education, as they start correcting Blanche's English and acting snotty about homeless people. When Blanche and the kids are invited to Amber Cove, an exclusive, all-black resort in Maine, she sees it as the perfect opportunity to observe her children with their wealthy friends and try to figure out how to stop them from becoming people she doesn't want to know.Along the way, Blanche gets an insider's view of the color and class divisions within the black community. Blanche stands out against the light-skinned, college-educated residents at Amber Cove, and some of the guests make sure she knows it - including her own daughter. But when one of the guests has a fatal accident and the godson of a famous septuagenarian feminist commits suicide, Blanche is enlisted to find out if these events are connected. What she discovers is a web of secrets that somebody may be willing to kill for, even as she meets a man determined to sweep her off her feet, no matter how much she weighs.

I received this book from Brash Books in exchange for an honest review.

I haven’t ever read Barbara Neely or the first book in the Blanche White series, but I am very glad that I read this book. The story can stand alone. Neely does a nice job providing enough back story for those of use who haven’t read about Blanche White before.

Blanche is a funny, dynamic, strong, black woman and I enjoyed reading about her very much. It’s very nice to read about a female character who knows exactly who she is and isn’t apologetic about it. She’s the guardian of her dead sister’s children and her internal conflict around that part of her life feels deep. Also, I love that Neely gives us a realistic portrayal of sex in the book. Blanche has conflicted feelings about it, but she is always ready. Too often, books fail to make safe sex a priority. Blanche is armed not only with condoms, but her diaphragm as well. That kind of sexual control is refreshing. She’s an adult. She knows the rules. And she’s taking charge. Neely also does a great job with her cast of supporting characters at Cedar Cove. I especially love Tina.

The meat of the story comes from the way Neely talks about race. There is a color hierarchy in the black community that she tackles head on. Blanche is very dark-skinned and, through Neely’s expert narration, we learn that having dark skin is either looked down upon by light-skinned black people because of the associations to slavery or revered by light-skinned black people because of the associations to Africa. Cedar Cove is a haven for rich, light-skinned black people. Blanche, a domestic worker, is invited to stay by the parents of wealthy friends of her children. She experiences the prejudice firsthand at Cedar Cove–the same prejudice she faced as a child. Growing up with black skin marginalized her from her peers. At times, Neely’s profession shines through. She’s a college professor and there are moments when you can tell. But I very much appreciate what she has to say and thought she did a great job conveying her message.

The over-arching themes of the novel are what make it shine. The mystery, not so much. The book didn’t feel like a mystery to me. There just happened to be a mystery to solve. I will say that I didn’t see the twist coming until right before it happened. That was good. But Blanche Among the Talented Tenth doesn’t really adhere to the mystery formats that I’m used to, even the cozy mysteries. I had to give it 3.5 stars instead of 4 because of the lackluster mystery.

But, overall, Blanche Among the Talented Tenth is an engaging read. Blanche is such cool woman. I’d love to sit down and chat with her. That alone makes the book worth reading.

three-half-stars

© 2015 – 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.