I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the BRIARCLIFF PREP by Brianna Peppins Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!
About The Book:
Title: BRIARCLIFF PREP
Author: Brianna Peppins
Pub. Date: November 15, 2022
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Set at a luxe, aspirational boarding school inspired by the author’s beloved alma mater Spelman College, this debut is a captivating celebration of the friends we choose, the family we protect, and the love we owe ourselves.
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.
Debut author Brianna Peppins deftly 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.
Avielle LeBeau tried to focus on the last paragraph of her creative essay in the back seat of the packed black Nissan Rogue as she, her sisters, and their mother sped down the highway. They followed closely behind an SUV carrying her father and brothers. Avi wanted her words on the laptop in front of her to be all-consuming, but a new distraction popped up every two seconds.
If it wasn’t her little sister’s loud crunching of white cheddar popcorn beside her or the nonstop tapping of her big sister’s acrylic nails on her phone screen in the passenger seat, then it was their mom belting off-key to another song on the radio, tearing away any semblance of Avi’s focus.
Avi peeled her sweaty thighs from the leather seat, leaning forward to aim the air vent directly at her face, but the August sun beaming through the window, and her combined anxiety, rendered it useless.
With a huff, Avi sat back again, staring at the words, trying to stop her eyes from darting to the GPS screen on the dashboard. She had, maybe, two minutes before they reached the tail end of South Carolina and crossed the state line into Georgia. Avi steadied her hands on the keyboard, instead pulling up the Briarcliff Prep website. Weirdly enough, the same thing that had her ready to pull her hair out doubled as a calming force.
Tomorrow morning, Avi would be joining the ranks as a young Black woman of prestige, honor, and distinction at Briarcliff Preparatory School for Girls. For years, she’d dreamed of starting her freshman year of high school in Georgia, being back with her older siblings and joining the Cliff News as a creative writing columnist. Her dreams remained steady, but for the last week or so, a creeping fear of homesickness . . . failure . . . or maybe just general unease lay constant in her chest. She ran an anxious hand up and down her chestnut brown arms before remembering to triple check that her inhaler was in the pocket of the blue duffel bag lying at her feet.
The Briarcliff home page read “Number 1 HBBS” and featured a slideshow of smiling students playing instruments in class, dressed in costumes on Halloween, lounging in dorms, and playing volleyball. For a moment, Avi paused, seeing a picture of her big sister, Belle, and her dance team, the Cheetahnaires, posing in sequin lavender and gold unitards at a basketball game. Dancing wasn’t Avi’s thing like it was Belle’s, but maybe she’d make friends just as quickly by joining the school’s paper—if they’d have her.
“We made it,” their mom, Toni, beamed as Avi pulled her AirPods out of her ears. Belle aimed her camera out the window, catching the peach on the giant blue “Welcome to Georgia” sign for her vlog.
Avi saw her mother’s chin jut up and felt her piercing upturned eyes (eyes they’d all inherited) staring at her in the rearview mirror. She fixed her face just a second too late. “Is your writing not going well?”
Absentmindedly, Avi pulled at an escaped brown coil from her high puff. “It’s fine; I just can’t concentrate.” “Concentrate on what?” Belle squinted, and her left dimple deepened in her mahogany skin. “I thought you said you finished your sample for the Cliff News a week ago?” “I mean, I did, but it still needs to be—”
“I thought it was really good, personally,” Paisli interrupted, leaning forward in the back seat. As she moved, the Target bags full of new twin XL mattress pads, shower caddies, and velvet hangers crowding her crinkled.
Avi faced her in wide-eyed outrage. Her twelve-year-old sister had the face of an angel—the nosiest little angel walking on earth. “And who said you could read it in the first place?”
“It was printed and sitting on your bed like a nice present,” she said, smirking. “Felt like an invitation.”
Avi cut her eyes at Paisli but suppressed a retort, knowing her little sister’s snippy attitude was a result of being “left behind.” She remembered feeling like that when Belle left for her freshman year at Briarcliff Prep three years ago. And again, last year, when the twins, Moe and EJ, prepped to leave for Preston Academy, Briarcliff’s brother school. Maryland had seemed dull in comparison, and Avi desperately wanted to be in Georgia with her older siblings then. She’d yearned to experience the sisterhood and embrace experiences her mother bragged about at her alma mater. More than anything, Avi wanted to step foot on Briarcliff’s campus and see what all the hype was about.
But her fairy tale was beginning to fade. The immediacy of it all, the idea of her parents leaving her there tomorrow . . . it had her feet freezing, while she simultaneously broke out in sweats.
She pushed the edge of her clear-rimmed frames up the bridge of her nose with one hand and fanned her pits with the other. “I— Can we all just roll our windows down and be quiet for like ten minutes?”
“No, honey.” Mom shook her head, and the pressed curls shaping her face flowed. Though she did lower her window. “You get nervous. That’s okay. Happens to the best of us, but this is exciting! You’re about to start your freshman year of high school at a Historically Black Boarding School.”
“The best one,” Belle added.
“And there aren’t too many people who can say that. You’ll be surrounded by young intellectuals that not only look like you but have similar experiences, too!”
“Plus, you have nothing to worry about with your essay. I read it, too, and it was . . . compelling. You got a gift, doll.” Avi felt the corner of her lips twitch. But that was easy for Belle to say. She didn’t have an insecure bone in her body. “You even convinced Auntie Char to send Kai,” Paisli said. “I did not,” Avi said, glaring back at the little brat this time. “Kai talked to Moe and EJ about Preston and convinced Godmommy Char himself. Preston was his choice.” “And Briarcliff was yours,” her mom said pointedly. Avi was sick of being the topic of discussion, so she did what she always did to evade unwanted attention—allow her sister to talk about herself.
“Belle, what was your top school other than Spelman and Southern U?”
Belle’s soft brown eyes lit. “Either NCAT or Hampton. I haven’t really narrowed it to three, but Spelman’s my priority.” At the sound of her collegiate alma mater, their mom reached over to give Belle’s full cheek a stroke. “And the double major is in Dance and what?” she asked, picking up Avi’s slack.
“Dance Performance and Choreography and Comparative Women’s Studies with a minor in Communications or . . .” Belle launched into the different major and minor combinations she’d been contemplating, her sister’s first-day jitters forgotten.
Avi stuffed her AirPods back in her ear, thankful old reliable still worked. She already knew of Belle’s plans to be in a position similar to Ashley Everett, Beyoncé’s dance captain, and eventually start a business specializing in entertainment event planning.
She swiped her finger across the touchpad on her laptop and the screen lit. This time, she didn’t hesitate to click the Cliff News link. For the past few months, her secret pastime had been to stalk old articles, poems, and short stories posted in the creative writing section of Briarcliff’s newspaper. Egypt Mack, the second term president of the paper, stared back at Avi from the screen. Her smile felt like a welcome, and Avi was ready. It was fun to imagine her writing one day posted on this very website. To have someone looking at her story or poem and finding the inspiration to create. According to Belle, they only picked the best writers, and there was one opening available for the freshman/sophomore creative writing column.
In no time, she found her favorite article, titled “The Transition.” It was from last May’s edition of the Cliff News by now-graduated senior, Rochelle Harris. The journey it took Avi on in only 1,500 words was awe-inspiring. She closed Briarcliff’s site and enlarged her own essay once again. Belle and Pai liked it, but Avi wasn’t in love with her words yet. She would stick this ending if it was the last thing she did.
Avi and her family filled two tables in the outside sitting area of a rest stop about two hours out from Grandma Sugah’s. Kai, Avi’s lanky godbrother, sat beside her on the bench. Their moms had been roommates back in college and ran Truehart Publishing together today. It was fate handing Avi her first friend when they were born a month apart. While it was true Avi didn’t convince him to attend Preston, there was no denying she’d planted the idea in his head.
He brushed the sides of his hair, careful to avoid disturbing the short curls atop his head. Antonio, the youngest of the six LeBeau siblings and Paisli’s twin, sat on the other side of him emulating the action.
“You didn’t even reach out to Jasiri?” Avi asked about Kai’s soon-to-be roommate.
“I know all I need to from his bio. He’s from Atlanta, makes beats, and listed ‘music producer’ as his career aspiration. What else is there to know?”
“You wanna be a court justice,” Avi said, smirking. “What if you have nothing in common?”
“And you’d want to know if he’s a night or morning person. Also, if he’s the showering type,” Mom said, unwrapping a piece of chocolate from her purse.
“Or things like if he’ll think he can just use your stuff ’cause it’s in the same room. Like your toothbrush, for example,” Belle said, camera out, snapping off-guards of everyone.
Kai looked sick at the thought but shook his head. “As long as dude doesn’t watch me in my sleep or mess with my food, I’m good. We can figure out the details later.”
“Aye, you’re just lucky they didn’t try to put you in a triple like they did us freshman year,” EJ said from across the bench. His twin Moe didn’t bother to take his eyes off the screen. He was playing with the lighting on a frame he’d shot for his and EJ’s newest short film. “Yeah,” he said stroking the peach fuzz on his chin. “I was pissed when I found out they gave us a triple last year.”
“Didn’t you guys get a triple in Newton again?” Antonio asked.
“True. But Q’s tough. We asked to keep it the same.” The twins’ physical similarities were startling, from the strong jaws they’d inherited from their dad to the tone of their vibrant, dark skin. Getting their braces off earlier this summer only added an unneeded boost to their egos. The only real physical tell for those who didn’t know them was the short fade Moe kept and EJ’s ever-growing high-top fade. “Newton’s the livest dorm on campus,” EJ said. “If you’re cool with the RBs, you can pretty much do what you want.
Plus, the emergency exit door on the ground floor is faulty, so it’s easy to . . .”
EJ’s voice faded as their mom’s head snapped away from Belle’s camera with raised brows.
“. . . to come back to the dorm before curfew.” EJ’s phone rang then, and a photo of his girlfriend, Noemie, crossed the screen. He gladly answered, leaving the table.
“Avi, you’re lucky, too,” Paisli said from Belle’s lap. She was way too big to be sitting there, but Belle wrapped her arms around her baby sister’s waist. “You get to be in Hollingsworth like Mommy and Belle were,” she pouted. “Zazie seems really nice, too. And I love her TikTok.”
“Two more years and we’ll be there with them,” Antonio said cheerfully.
“Wait. How did you find Zazie’s TikTok?” Avi asked. Zazie was a Chicagoan with an affinity for photography and dreams of being an astronaut. But Avi only received her new roomie’s IG handle yesterday. How would Paisli know that she seemed nice?
“I found it after I found her Instagram. If I look hard enough, I can find anything. Ooh,” she said, grabbing her phone from the table, “somebody just delivered a package to the front door.” She zoomed in further. “He has a blue mohawk and tattoos on his scalp. Look, Tony!” she said facing the phone toward her twin.
But their father, Ellis, snatched it out her hand, appearing out of nowhere. He’d been across the lot, chatting it up with some man he just met from Minnesota who saw the blue crabs on their Maryland license plates.
“I already told you, Pai. The new security system is just that. A security system,” he said sternly. “If you use it to people-watch, the app comes off your phone.” He pretended to hand it back to her, only to snatch it away again with a broad smile plastered on his bearded face. The left dimple each of his kids inherited shone bright. He dropped the phone in her lap, and placed his large hands on Avi’s shoulders, whispering, “Come talk to me,” in her ear.
Avi sighed, annoyed, but she saw this coming. When they first parked, Dad had strode to their car to open Mom’s door. As she stood on her toes to kiss him, Avi heard her name slip from her mother’s lips.
“Do you wanna start?” he asked when they were feet away from their chattering family.
Avi’s brow arched. “I would, but I’d hate to admit to some thing you have no idea about.”
“Fine.” He chuckled. “The first is good news. Your Uncle Jovahn is coming to help us move you guys in tomorrow.” That was one of the positives about this move to Georgia. Living this close to Sugah, maybe visiting Auntie Naima’s bridal boutique, and seeing Uncle Jovahn, too. He was her father’s youngest brother and in his last year at Morehouse. Growing up, Jovahn spent holidays and most summers in Maryland with them. Over time, he’d come to be much more like a big brother than an uncle.
“Secondly,” Dad said in a serious tone.
Avi fought the urge to roll her eyes. “Here we go.” “Yeah, here we go,” he nodded. “I’ve been waiting for you to say something to me, but tomorrow’s the day. Your mama, Belle, and even Moe—who literally pretends not to care about anything—have been tellin’ me you’re stressed about
Briarcliff? Not that I haven’t noticed you hiding in your room.” He leaned on the bench in front of her, and the cologne on his skin lingered. “Tell me what that’s about? I thought I was the only one falling to pieces about you leaving me.”
Avi took a moment to think, wanting to answer honestly. Her feelings were a jumbled, conflicting mess. The idea of starting her first year of high school tomorrow filled her to the brim with excitement. Avi knew it would be no Glee or High School Musical experience, though she couldn’t deny the two weeks she’d spent binging The Facts of Life, hoping to some
how prepare herself. No matter how unprepared she felt, the urge to follow in her family’s footsteps was . . . compelling. Still, another part of her—the louder, aggressive part— wanted to road trip back to Maryland with her parents, Antonio, and Paisli tomorrow and leave all the worrying behind.
“I dunno.” Avi shrugged. “You and Mommy let me decide if I wanted to go to Briarcliff or not. I’ve never made a big decision like this before. What if I picked wrong? There’s nothing wrong with a regular high school in Maryland, and I didn’t even consider them. What if I end up hating Zazie? She seems nice enough now, but that could be fake. What if I don’t even get past the first-round picks for the Cliff News? What if I get homesick? What if—”
“Whoa, Avi.” He chuckled, though his eyes filled with concern. “Have you ever considered a positive ‘what if’? What if you love it? What if you find your best friends? What if you become an even better writer? That’s what I’ve been thinking.” He touched a finger to her chin. “Listen, Belle came back even smarter and more business savvy with her YouTube page, that a professor helped her start.” Freshman year, Belle’s music professor encouraged her to post her solo violin mashup performance at the Winter Orchestra Showcase. What started as a series of violin covers had branched into choreography videos and vlogs that gained a decent following.
“And your brothers have matured profoundly in one year at Preston. I’m still shocked,” he said with a hand to his chest. “EJ studies under that vocal coach and earned his spot as the scarecrow in their production of The Wiz last year. And Moe’s always talking about how much that film club professor is teaching them. Even encouraged him to send in his short film to that festival last year. And he got third place.
“As much as I’d like for your mama and me to take all the credit,” her dad continued, “I can’t. It takes a community, and you’re entering a new one tomorrow. Look, I see your storyboards. I see you practicing and honing your craft. The regret and guilt you’ll feel for not trusting yourself, your talent, and your instincts will overpower any comfort you’d get by us loading up the car and driving home right now. Tell me,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest, “if we go to those schools tomorrow and drop off Belle, EJ, Moe, and Kai, and tell you it’s okay for you to come home with us, would you hop in?”
She shook her head. “No.”
He smiled again. “You didn’t even hesitate, baby. This is going to be good for you. You’re gonna find your place, and everything will fall in line.” He leaned down to kiss her fore head. When he pulled back, Avi saw her cedar brown eyes mirrored in his. “You can go back,” he said nodding toward their table, pulling his vibrating phone out of his pocket. When she was feet away, he called to her with the phone to his ear, “Avielle, your tuition is already paid. So, take what I said to heart.”
About Brianna Peppins:
Brianna Peppins is the author of young adult contemporary novels, including Briarcliff Prep and As Long as We’re Together. She was raised in PG County, Maryland and graduated from Spelman College with a B.A. in Psychology. When not writing, Brianna takes special interest in spending time with her loved ones, social justice issues and is a self-proclaimed movie aficionado.
1 winner will receive a finished copy of BRIARCLIFF PREP, US Only.
Ends December 6th, midnight EST.
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