Book Club Questions for Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Book club discussion questions for Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson explore the complex inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and names that shape relationships and history.

What is the significance of the black cake made from a family recipe with a long history, and how does it tie into Eleanor’s tumultuous story of a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder? How do the secrets Eleanor still holds back challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage and themselves? Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right”? … and more!

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Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake also delves into the intricacies of human relationships and the strength of community. Through the story of Elsie and her family, the novel explores themes of resilience, love, and the power of forgiveness. The characters’ connection to their land and their shared history highlights the importance of nature in healing and finding a sense of belonging.

As you delve into Black Cake, consider discussing questions around the role of community in the characters’ lives, the importance of tradition and history, and the impact of loss and grief on the human experience. You may also want to explore the themes of forgiveness and redemption, and how they play out in the story. Finally, think about how the characters’ relationships with nature and the land shape their identities and sense of self.

In this detailed reading guide, you will find more than twenty book club discussion questions that explore various themes and aspects of this book. So, let’s dive into some book club questions for Black Cake! 🎂

The Synopsis

We can’t choose what we inherit. But can we choose who we become?

In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage and themselves.

Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right”? Will their mother’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever?

Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel is a story of how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names can shape relationships and history. Deeply evocative and beautifully written, Black Cake is an extraordinary journey through the life of a family changed forever by the choices of its matriarch.

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Book Club Questions for Black Cake

I hope you and your book club will enjoy my discussion reading guide for Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson. ✨

  • The opening line of Black Cake, “B & B, there’s a small black cake for you in the freezer. Don’t throw it out […] I want you to sit down together and share the cake when the time is right. You’ll know when,” sets the tone for the story and raises questions about what the cake represents and when the right time to share it is. What are your thoughts on the significance of the cake, and did you have any predictions about when it would be eaten?
  • The novel Black Cake is divided into two parts, with the second part being narrated by Eleanor, who has been using the identity of her friend Elly. Discuss the reasons why Eleanor might have felt the need to take on a new identity, and what this reveals about her character.
  • The character of Bunny is depicted as having romantic feelings towards Covey, which are not reciprocated. Discuss how Bunny’s unrequited love for Covey affects her character and her choices throughout the novel.
  • One of the central themes in the novel is the tension between tradition and modernity, as exemplified by the character of Covey and her family. How does the novel explore this theme, and what message do you think it conveys?
  • Discuss the symbolism of the lilac flowers in the novel and how they relate to Covey’s story.
  • The character of Marble adds an unexpected twist to the story. How did you feel about this revelation, and did it change your perception of the characters and their relationships?
  • Byron’s lack of commitment is a recurring theme throughout the novel. What do you think is behind his reluctance to commit, and do you believe he is capable of change?
  • The novel uses different points of view to tell the story, including first, second, and third person narratives. Why do you think the author chose to use this narrative style, and did it work for you as a reader?
  • The character of Pearl is portrayed as a wise and nurturing figure who helps Covey in her time of need. Discuss the role of mentorship in the novel, and how it affects the characters’ growth and development.
  • The theme of secrets and lies is prevalent throughout the novel, with no character being innocent of them. Which secrets or lies did you find the most interesting or frustrating, and why?
  • The book explores the idea of time running out and the regret of missed opportunities. Can you think of any instances in your own family where this theme has been present, and how did it affect your relationships?
  • The afterword discusses the significance of traditions and recipes that get handed down in families. Do you have similar traditions in your family, and what do they say about your family’s history? How do they affect your relationships with family members, and do you believe they carry emotional weight as Wilkerson suggests?
  • The character of Bunny is depicted as having romantic feelings towards Covey, which are not reciprocated. Discuss how Bunny’s unrequited love for Covey affects her character and her choices throughout the novel.
  • The novel is set against the backdrop of a changing world, with many characters seeking to forge new paths for themselves. Discuss how the novel portrays the challenges and opportunities of this changing world, and what lessons it offers about navigating change.
  • The novel is rich in symbolism, with many objects and events carrying deeper meanings. Discuss one example of symbolism from the novel, and what it represents for the story and its characters.
  • The black cake is a traditional Caribbean dessert that carries a lot of symbolic weight in the novel. Discuss the significance of the black cake in the story, and what it represents for the different characters.
  • Both Benny and Byron struggle with their sense of identity and their place in the world. How do their experiences compare, and what do their stories reveal about the challenges faced by members of marginalized communities?
  • The novel touches on a number of sensitive topics, including racism, homophobia, and domestic violence. How does the author handle these topics, and what impact do they have on the story and its characters?
  • In the novel, we learn that Eleanor has been keeping secrets from her children for years. Discuss the impact of these secrets on the characters, and what lessons the novel might offer about the importance of honesty and communication in family relationships.
  • Covey/Eleanor is a complex character who holds back hurtful secrets while also being a resilient survivor. How did you feel about her character, and did you sympathize with her lies? What motivated her to keep these secrets, and do you believe her reasons were justified?
  • Compare and contrast the ways in which Covey and Benny respond to their families’ expectations and pressures.

Selected Reviews for Black Cake

“I was instantly taken in by this multigenerational tale of identity, family, and the lifelong push and pull of home. This novel has a tremendous heart at its center, and I felt its beat on every page. What an extraordinary debut.”—Mary Beth Keane

Black Cake has all the ingredients of the tastiest stories: secrets, romance, danger, and a cast of characters so real you want to scream at them one moment and hug them the next.”—Dawnie Walton, author of The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

“Fans of family dramas by Ann Patchett, Brit Bennett, and Karen Joy Fowler should take note. Black Cake marks the launch of a writer to watch, one who masterfully plumbs the unexpected depths of the human heart.”BookPage

“Crafted with delicate intention and textured with a blend of perspectives.”Vulture

Additional Recommendations

Hope you enjoyed my book club discussion questions and reading guide for Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson!

Here are some more of my book club recommendations:

Trust by Daines L. Reed

In the face of a personal nightmare and barely earning enough to save herself, one brave woman makes a decision that will change her life and the lives of her closest friends.

Ruthena Gentry, unsure of what the future holds, and done with fighting the demons of her past, presses forward in faith. Armed with little more than her Bible, her hammer, and her friends, she clings to the hope that it’s never too late to rewrite her own story. What awaits on the other side of her journey is more than she and her friends could have ever imagined.

As the unexpected arises, the women learn that trust runs deeper than dollar signs. How do you free your family when you’re not sure how to free yourself? For Ruthena Gentry and her book club friends, problems with relationships, kids, and money bring new frustrations every day. But, when Ruthena is forced to flee here tumultuous marriage– and the lives of her friends come tumbling down, too– the ladies fear that a future fraught with turmoil is becoming inevitable.

Caught in the quicksand of daily survival and desperate for a change, Ruth and her friends make a bold move towards freedom. Ending the legacy of poverty that has plagued their families for generations will require epic faith and these friends are down for the cause. The problem is that time is not on their side and freedom is never free.

Miss Pearly’s Girls by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

In this captivating family drama from award-winning, bestselling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley, four estranged sisters must return to rural Arkansas when their mother is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Their mother wants them to repair their shattered relationships, but first they’ll have to face the lies and obstacles they’ve worked so hard to leave behind…

Raising four very different daughters on her own in rural Arkansas wasn’t easy for Miss Pearly Bell. And she’s always regretted that the sisters went their separate ways for good—and never wanted to see each other again. But when Pearly is stricken with a terminal illness, she summons them all home—determined to somehow help them get right with each other and forgive…But that means dealing with past secrets and lies first.

As the oldest sister, pastor’s wife Maxine took her responsibility way too seriously—and never fails to judge everyone else. But a secret she can no longer keep will explode everything she stands for. Youngest sister Leslie is all about making a very different life with her new love—but she didn’t expect a shattering past truth to be suddenly revealed and uproot everything she ever thought she knew. Elegant PR professional Stella and her earthy twin, Star, don’t see eye-to-eye on anything—and now a long-ago deception could wipe out their last chance at a relationship.

Soon each sister must confront the illusions they’ve taken refuge in for so long and deal with each other woman-to-woman. But can building an all-too-fragile trust repair the damage done—and help them come together when they are needed most?

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

For fans of A Man Called Ove, a charming, witty and compulsively readable exploration of friendship, reckoning, and hope that traces a widow’s unlikely connection with a giant Pacific octopus

After Tova Sullivan’s husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she’s been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.

Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn’t dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors—until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova’s son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it’s too late. 

Shelby Van Pelt’s debut novel is a gentle reminder that sometimes taking a hard look at the past can help uncover a future that once felt impossible.

Thank you for reading my book club discussion questions and as always, happy reading! 📕