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The Only Black Girls in Town: 05/02/20
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert is set in fictional Ewing Beach California. It was supposed to a Black beach town but as of the start of the novel, Alberta, Al to her friends, is the only Black girl in her school. That is until the B&B across the street is sold to a Black family.
Although Ewing Beach is fictional, it's created with a strong sense of place and history. From how it's described and the real towns near it, it's probably on the other side of US 1 from Arroyo Grande (which does have a Ewing Road). The ice cream shop that Laramie's family runs is clearly inspired by Doc Burnstein's in Arroyo Grande. If I were to place Ewing Beach on a map, I'd put it south of the Pacific Dunes.
In contrast to tiny Ewing Beach where life is defined in part by the ebb and flow of the Pacific Ocean, new neighbor Edie, is from Brooklyn. She is a city girl but she's not the hip hop stereotype a white writer would put here to contrast with Al. Where Al's passion is surfing and her personal style is bright colors and whimsical designs, Edie is a Goth.
Once the two locations are established, Al's story splits into three interesting threads that are braided back together into a complex and rewarding story that spans nearly seven decades of history.
The first, thread is the friendship between Al and Edie and how it affects Al's previously established friendships. Al has a long history with her friends, even if she's the only Black girl among them. Al and Edie bond at first because they're "skinfolk" but both have doubts that it's enough to make the friendship grow.
Second is the arrival of Al's birth mother who is pregnant with a child by her husband, and the history of how she, her husband, and Edie's two dads all met in Ojai. Al has known her birth mother all her life, but she has always been distant, living and working in Los Angeles. Now she's here and Al's having to rethink her personal history as she gets to know the woman better. She also has to adjust to being a sister, even if it will be a remote relationship.
Finally, there is the mystery of Constance, a young woman who kept a series of diaries in the 1950s-1960s. Her diaries ended up in the attic of the B&B and the girls bond over trying to discover her identity and learn her history.
Constance, though, is the thread that brings everything together. Although I had figured out her identity early on, I still loved reading her diary entries. Her growth as a person helps both girls grow.
Brandy Colbert's next novel is The Voting Booth. It releases July 7, 2020.