the only black girls in town // review

Title: The Only Black Girls in Town
Author: Brandy Colbert
Pages: 368
Date published: March 2020

Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.

Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.

When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.

Wow, I really liked this book!! I went into it with very open expectations because I hadn’t read a book by Brandy Colbert yet, and also because I knew nothing about it when I started reading since I primarily picked it off my library’s new shelf because it was pretty and had a cool cover. Let me tell you, I ended up being blown away and becoming very interested in Brandy Colbert’s other books, so let’s get into why I loved this book so much.

The first thing that really sang to me in this book was the beach setting. Alberta, our main character, lives in a seaside town in California that has small town vibes. The first thing we get to learn about our lovely Alberta is that she loves to surf. I really enjoyed all the scenes throughout the book about her surf camp and her teacher, who was really supportive, and her friend Oliver, who also hated the mean girl on the team who says racist things to Alberta.

Now, I can’t comment on the rep fully because this is not an ownvoices review, but I can say this book dealt with racism in a much more nuanced way even than some YA books I’ve read. I liked how Brandy Colbert described how the comments her white peers made made Alberta feel, even with her friend Laramie, who still sometimes said stuff that made Alberta uncomfortable. It was interesting to have those comments and compare them to some of the seemingly more overt stuff that her mean neighbor, Nicolette, says.

I also thought the discussion on “skinfolk vs kinfolk” was interesting. When Alberta’s new neighbor, Edie, moves into the old B&B, one of her fathers says that just because a person is “skinfolk” (meaning they’re both Black) doesn’t mean they’re “kinfolk” (meaning they’ll actually like each other and get along). I’m not going to comment much more on that because I can’t tell you what that would mean for an ownvoices reader.

I also LOVED the mystery element. I was absolutely not expecting that part of the book when I went into it, and was surprised when Edie discovered the journals in her house. However, I was immediately hooked by the story being told in the journals, and how the girls immediately knew the writer was Black, even if they took some time to find out what the whole story was. The journals added so much to the story and were a really creative way to talk about important parts of Black history, which I won’t go into too much because I don’t want to spoil what they discover.

The friendships in the book were also wonderful to read about, as they often are in MG novels. I loved watching Alberta get to know Edie, who is very different from her. I found Edie so charming and funny and unique, and appreciated how Brandy Colbert really took a lot of care with Edie’s character to make her a multidimensional character with her own goals, thoughts, and feelings too. It was also interesting to see the interactions between Edie, Laramie (Alberta’s first best friend who she’s known most of her life), and Alberta and see how that affected her friendship with Laramie as well. I think the themes dealt with in each friendship are things lots of middle grade readers could relate to, and they were all handled so sensitively.

This book ended up completely surprising me, and I’m so glad that I picked it up on a whim. I am definitely going to be reading Brandy Colbert’s latest YA book, THE VOTING BOOTH, which has been on my TBR for quite a while. I also fully intend to read any future MG books she writes if this type of writing and story is what we have to look forward to!