Book Review: “Briarcliff Prep” is a Celebration of Self Discovery and Black Womanhood

Set at an aspirational boarding school inspired by the author's alma mater Spelman College, Briarcliff Prep is a story about the friends we choose, the family we protect, and the love we owe ourselves.

Debut author Brianna Peppins balances a celebration of sisterhood, self-discovery, and Black joy with an empathetic exploration of teen dating violence in this novel that is, at its heart, a love letter to Black girls.

What is Briarcliff Prep about?

It's fourteen-year-old Avielle "Avi" LeBeau's turn to do what everyone in her family has done: leave home to attend Briarcliff Prep―a Historically Black Boarding School (HBBS). And as scared as she is to say goodbye to her parents and move to Georgia, she knows her fearless big sister Belle will be there to show her the ropes.

Before long, Avi settles into life at Briarcliff. New friends (and foes), challenging classes (at times too challenging), and maybe a cute tutor-turned-something-more (if her brothers don't get in the way). Meanwhile, Belle does what she always does: she runs the campus's social scene, especially now that she's dating Logan, the pride and joy of Briarcliff's sibling school Preston Academy.

But something about Logan doesn't sit well with Avi, no matter how many times Belle reassures her Logan is a good guy. And when Avi stumbles across the truth, her relationship with Belle is put to the test. If Avi reveals what she knows, their sisterhood might never recover. But if she doesn't, she might lose Belle forever.

Briarcliff Prep highlights the importance of female relationships, womanhood

and the college experience

Briarcliff Prep explores a great number of issues, one of the most significant being the importance of female friendships. From her roommate to her sister, Avi encounters real tests that can make or break relationships. What struck me most about Avi and Belle’s relationship was that it went beyond being just sisters but to being genuine friends that go the extra mile for each other. The sisterly aspect was also interesting, as it explored perception vs. reality: while Belle looks as if she has it all, she too has her own demons that she cannot fight alone.

Even more broadly than just female friendships, womanhood is also given great weight and great voice in this book and is thoughtfully interwoven with various aspects of the story. The author writes:

Womanhood, especially Black womanhood, is something I hold near and dear to my heart, which is why I named several of the buildings on Briarcliff’s campus after women I admire or included their names, quotes or works in this book. My hope is that readers may take the opportunity to appreciate and learn about these trailblazers for themselves.

Among the inspirational name drops (which include Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker) is a college experience that contains experiences that almost every reader may be familiar with or can relate to. Whether it is dealing with rejection, relationships, and unfortunately teen violence, this story tackles all plot points with great sincerity.

While the story begins slow and many, many characters are introduced in the first few chapters (I found myself having to go back early on to try to reconnect who’s who), Briarcliff Prep is a great story wedged in an important reality. Peppins pushes us to learn from greats who have come before us, as well as to learn from our own experiences, both the highs and the lows. Such learning can happen simultaneously while celebrating womanhood, the college experience, and our unending quest to discover our deepest selves.

Briarcliff Prep was released on November 15, 2022.

Jess Salafia Ward
Jess Salafia Ward is an Aussie, an attorney and a die-hard Disney fan. She grew up in a city not too far from P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney; and she still enjoys dancing around in Snow White pajamas and serenading her family members with Sleeping Beauty’s “Once Upon A Dream” (though, unlike Princess Aurora, she is not blessed with the gift of song). Jess is an Elvis-lover like Lilo, and when she doesn't have her nose stuck in a book, she delights in sharing with fellow fans all things Disney, books, movies and history.