THE OTHER BLACK GIRL
ZAKIYA DALILA HARRIS
Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of book publishing.
Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and the micro-aggressions, she’s thrilled when Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events cause Nella to become Public Enemy Number One and Hazel, the Office Darling.
Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.
It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realises that there is a lot more at stake than her career.
A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.
The Other Black Girl was definitely a book of two halves for me. The majority of the book is a slow paced, realistic thriller set in a publishing house with a real sense of unease running through it. After years of trying to promote diversity in her workplace, Nella struggles when a new black girl is hired who doesn’t seem to share the same ideals as her but is also winning over the bosses and undermining Nella at every opportunity. I really liked the portrayal of black issues that are at the forefront of this part of the book; the dilemma of trying to speak up that one of the companies best-selling authors has created a harmful stereotype of black culture within their writing was really interesting and I liked how realistic Nella felt. As this part of the book is so long you also start to see the plot from all sides, it was an interesting balance between how much gas-lighting and undermining was going on from Hazel but also how much could be just jealousy from Nella about someone else coming in and taking her ‘position’ within the company. Nella comes across as a bit unhinged at times which cast her reliability into question nicely.
By around 80% of the book, I was still very unsure where the story was going and not much had actually happened. There’d been a few warning notes at Nella’s desk demanding that she leave her job but I really think this section could have been edited down considerably. There were also a few chapters written in other perspectives but these were confusing, I didn’t really understand how they related to the story and as the plot was so slow and they didn’t move it on at all I found myself very frustrated with them.
At 80% we suddenly get a massive genre change and the whole book takes on a bit of a sci-fi tilt. This was immensely jarring and because the previous parts of the book had been so realistic it just felt a bit ridiculous. By 91% I felt like the plot had finally gotten going but this didn’t really give the book anywhere to go once the reveal had been made. The change came from nowhere and hadn’t really been set up or alluded to in the previous half of the book and so there was nothing to grasp on to. I really think the hair-care party which sparked the change should have come at 50% of the novel and then the rest of it focused on fleshing the idea out and showing the reader the motivations behind what was happening. All we got in regards to that was a monologue from one character right towards the end which just seem to portray them as a straight-up evil, without any light or shade. It would have been great to get a few more hints earlier in the story as to what was specifically going on as well. The twist at the end felt very predictable once you knew what was going on and I’m still left with a lot more questions than the ending answered.
Overall, The Other Black Girl is a slow-paced read with a jarring plot and genre twist that came way too late in the story to do anything with. Thank you to NetGalley & Bloomsbury Publishing for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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