The Black Cake Author Explained The Book’s Twisty Ending

Read ahead of the new Hulu adaptation.

Based on author Charmaine Wilkerson’s 2022 novel, Hulu’s Black Cake adaptation is a family drama wrapped in a murder mystery. Spanning decades, the action kicks off in 1960 with runaway bride Covey’s (Mia Isaac) disappearance off the Jamaican coast. What nobody knows, however, is if she drowned or is a fugitive on the run for her groom’s murder.

In present-day Southern California, a widow named Eleanor Bennett (Chipo Chung) dies, leaving her two estranged children, Byron (Ashley Thomas) and Benny (Adrienne Warren), a flash drive full of shocking secrets about her journey from the Caribbean to America.

Showrunner Marissa Jo Cerar was an instant fan of Wilkerson’s book, explaining to Black Girl Nerds that she took great care to preserve the spirit of the novel, which was one of former president Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2022. Here are the main Black Cake plot points, including Wilkerson’s explanation of the ending. Spoilers ahead for the Black Cake book.

Multi-Layered Family Secrets

Similar to Hulu’s version, siblings Byron and Benny, who’d been estranged for years after the latter came out as bisexual, must set aside their differences when their mother, Eleanor, dies in 2018 California. Their father, Bert, died a few years earlier before he could reconcile with Benny, but Eleanor left her children an inheritance of a frozen traditional Caribbean black cake and a life-changing voice recording, which she stipulated they listen to together.

James Van Evers/Hulu

On the recording, Eleanor tells the story of a young girl named Covey in the 1950s Caribbean. Covey’s mother, Mathilda, ran a bakery with her helper, Pearl. Her father, Lin, was a Chinese immigrant and island shop owner with a gambling problem. Though Covey falls in love with surfer Gibbs when she’s 16, Lin forces her to marry a violent loan shark, “Little Man,” to satisfy an unpaid debt.

On their wedding day, Little Man chokes and dies during a toast, presumably because Pearl poisoned the top layer of their cake. Pearl also helps Covey escape by offering her mother’s money, along with the contact information of someone who can secretly help Covey off the island.

Meet Elly Douglas

Fast-forward to 1965, and Covey lives in London with a new name, Coventina. (Back home, it’s assumed that she killed Little Man and fled.) There, she meets Eleanor “Elly” Douglas, but when they make plans to pursue their dreams elsewhere, their train out of London crashes, and Elly dies in the accident. However, authorities mistake the two, and Covey assumes Elly’s identity, so she no longer has to run from murder charges.

James Van Evers/Hulu

As Eleanor Douglas, Covey moves to Scotland, where her boss rapes and impregnates her. She’s taken in by a shelter run by nuns, who force Eleanor to place the baby for adoption. Shortly afterward, Eleanor has a chance encounter with Gibbs, who later changes his name to Bert, so they can be together. She never tells Bert about her baby, though, and they start a new life together in California as Bert and Eleanor Bennett.

A Secret Half-Sibling

In Part IV’s present timeline, Wilkerson introduces Mabel “Marble” Martin, an ethno-food guru, who’s later revealed to be Byron and Benny’s half-sister. Unaware that she was adopted, Marble agrees to meet Byron and Benny, but abruptly leaves when she learns of Eleanor’s sexual assault. After listening to Eleanor’s recording later, Marble eventually returns, and the three siblings decide to eat the black cake their mother left them.

Inside the cake is a photograph of Covey with Gibbs and her childhood best friend Bunny, who’s now a famous long-distance swimmer and goes by the name Etta Pringle. (It turns out, Eleanor had secretly reconnected with Bunny/Etta in adulthood.) After her children find Etta, all four travel back to the island to visit Pearl and Lin.

James Van Evers/Hulu

After a contentious meeting — Byron still couldn’t forgive his grandfather for forcing his mother to marry Little Man — Lin has a stroke, but survives. Afterward, the siblings are inspired to take charge of their lives, finding personal and professional successes.

Murder Mystery Solved

The book ending implies that it was Bunny, not Pearl, who killed Little Man to save her best friend. She stole Pearl’s poison and put it in Little Man’s champagne, causing him to die during the reception toasts. In the final pages, Byron, Benny, and Marble scatter their parents’ ashes into the sea, along with what was left of Eleanor’s final black cake.

“The cake symbolizes the history of this family, in which the children, who are now grown, really don’t know the half of what their parents went through,” Wilkerson explained in a February 2022 interview with BookPage. “Their journey of discovery is going to actually change the way in which they see not only their parents, their family history, but their own relationships.”

James Van Evers

In her book club kit, the author wrote that the cake symbolized family connections, sisterhood, diaspora, and nostalgia. “It also represented the ways in which our identities can be shaped as much by untold stories as by the stories we choose to share,” she added. “Like the hidden reasons behind the cake in Eleanor Bennett’s freezer.”

What does Wilkerson want readers to take away from her debut novel? As she summed up to Parade, “I do hope that they will pick up on the fact that there’s a good deal of love in the characters’ lives, despite everything that happens to them.”

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit