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.
Title: Briarcliff Prep
Author: Briana Peppins
Publication Date: November 15, 2022
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
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.”
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.
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