In Beverly Jenkins’s Bring On The Blessings, Bernadine Brown isn’t sure what blessings could come of discovering her husband in quite the compromising position with this secretary — or $275 million she received in their divorce settlement. But when she catches wind of an historically black town in Kansas in deep financial trouble, she felt a call to help out. Bernadine purchases the town, which boasts a whopping 52 residents, and begins reconstruction on Henry Adams — which was built itself during Reconstruction following the Civil War.
With the help of the residents like Trent July and Lily Fontaine, Bernadine also develops a plan to help unfortunate children from around the country, and the arrival of the kids in town brings a host of new challenges and rewards. What follows then is a fun ride with a sincere group of characters — and many of them certainly are characters! — toward finding new definitions of love and family.
Bernadine is a very strong-willed, independent and motivated woman — and she’s not looking for a man to come and pull her out of the muck. She has her wealth, her connections and her background in social work, and she knows no one can take that away from her. When she sees a problem, she doesn’t wait around for someone else to fix it — she jumps in with both feet and gets the job done. I love seeing empowered women making a difference! But who doesn’t?
The dialogue is crisp and believable, and I could definitely hear the cadence of the people speaking in Henry Adams. Everyone had a distinct quality to their voice, especially the children, and I felt like I was really standing there with them when they were speaking. When the kids arrive in the novel, the entire pacing changed for me — in a good way. It seemed to give the novel more direction, and it made me feel hopeful that something positive was going to take place.
There was absolutely nothing subtle about Bring On The Blessings: nothing to read between the lines, no foreshadowing. What you see is what you get. This often resulted in “info dumping” — Jenkins drops a paragraph in the middle of a chapter completely outlining a past event, or giving you an entire backstory in two sentences. This was frustrating for me as a reader, and the entire novel felt like a textbook case of “telling and not showing,” which I find difficult to stomach. I tried to put my irritation with that aside while I was reading, but the lack of nuance in any way was tiresome.
Jenkins also writes in the third person omniscient, so we spend all of our time weaving in and out of the minds of the elaborate cast of characters — and there were many characters. We’re given first names, last names, places of origin, how they’re all related — and I frequently had to pause to try and figure out who these folks were in relation to one another. Because the transitions between viewpoints happened very abruptly, I often felt a mite confused. But it usually only took a few minutes for me to get my bearings.
I also didn’t feel personally connected to anyone but the children: Devon, Amari, Crystal, Zoey and Preston. We get a little of her back stories as we progress through the chapters, and that helped me to piece them together. They also seemed the most realistic as characters, and were the most endearing. With the exceptions of Bernadine, Trent and Lily, they all felt like shells of people to me. I didn’t emotionally connect with what they were going through. I think the problem with info dumping is my main concern there.
Despite those misgivings, I actually did enjoy the story. I thought it was fresh and unique, and I enjoyed meeting Bernadine and the people of Henry Adams. It was nice to spend some time in a state like Kansas — I knew nothing about it, and feel like I know a bit more now! And I enjoyed watching the family dynamics developing between characters. Yes, I did tear up a little bit toward the end — I’m not made of stone! A bit heartwarming, but could have benefited from more focus.
3 out of 5!