Book Review: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

I put this book on hold at my library as soon as I saw that it was on order, and to my surprise I was able to already have it in my hands a week after it came out. If I had known that was going to happen, I would have added it to my Gemini Season TBR because this is the kind of book that would fit in perfectly. It’s a mystery/thriller and while it didn’t have me on the edge of my seat as much as I hoped, it was very gripping.

Before we go any further, this book focuses heavily on race and racism in the book publishing world. It discusses Black culture and Black issues, which of course I’m not able to critique as a white reader. I browsed Goodreads for reviews from Black readers and it seems that not everyone liked this book as much as I did. In other words, my review for this book only reflects opinions that are my own.

Details

  • Name: The Other Black Girl (click to be taken to the Goodreads page)
  • Author: Zakiya Delila Harris
  • Genre: contemporary, mystery, thriller
  • Page count: 368
  • Published: June 1, 2021

Blurb

Get Out meets The Stepford Wives in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City 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 microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred 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 elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

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 realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

Review

Main Characters

Multiple POVs are used to tell the story, but Nella’s is the most central. She’s a fully developed character with a backstory, a life outside of work, and likes/dislikes. The level of care Zakiya Delila Harris put into creating Nella really elevates the story. I liked Nella and even though I can’t relate to her experiences, she’s easy to empathize with.

It’s hard to discuss Hazel without spoiling anything, but I will say that her character is interesting and there was never a dull scene with her in it.

Nella’s best friend Malaika is a likeable character, especially because she always keeps it real with Nella. She’s trustworthy and her sense of humour and opinions add more depth to the story.

Nella’s coworkers and her boss at Wagner seemed very realistic to me even though I’ve never worked in publishing or experienced the office dynamics that Nella explains.

I liked the additional storyline of the two Black women who worked at Wagner decades before Nella, especially because they inspired her to start a career in publishing. They had contrasting approaches to blending in at Wagner, which was interesting to watch play out.

Plot

Considering that this is marketed as a thriller, I was not expecting it to be so funny. Actually, this book was nothing like what I was expecting, but in the best way possible.

Normally I’m not too enthused when a book starts with a prologue, but this was an exception. The prologue opens with the date, location, and a mysterious woman fleeing New York via the subway. Then, the first chapter flashes forward to 2018 when Nella learns that she has a new co-worker. I was intrigued and it only got better from there.

The Other Black Girl references real-life events like the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad debacle. During this part, Nella makes a great point about how it’s not the job of Black people to help white people navigate political correctness. This book is so bold and I loved how direct its commentary is.

I didn’t want to believe that Hazel was out to get Nella, but it seemed obvious that she was leaving the notes. I won’t spoil anything, but there is more to Hazel than meets the eye. Hazel’s confidence as a Black woman creates tension between them because Nella struggles with her Blackness. As I was reading, I wondered if Nella’s insecurity made her misinterpret Hazel’s intentions or if she was out to get her. There are levels to this plot, and that’s what makes it so good!

The mystery is revealed crumb by crumb but not without plenty of twists and turns. Yet, the pacing was anything but slow. Although, it bothered me a little that I found things out before Nella did because of the additional POVs.

Writing

The writing was excellent. I can be a bit picky when it comes to writing and I don’t have a single complaint. It was crisp, clever, and vivid without being too wordy.

Overall

I highly recommend this book. The Other Black Girl deals with real-world issues, it’s suspenseful, amusing, and eye-opening. I rate this 4.5 stars because I loved everything up until the ending. I was disappointed by the truth about Hazel’s intentions and the final showdown between Nella and Hazel in the last chapter. It involves a sci-fi twist that was out of place, considering how realistic the rest of the plot was. The epilogue leaves us with unanswered questions, which makes me wonder if a sequel is in store. One thing is clear, I will pick up anything she writes.

Quotes

“With heightened awareness of cultural sensitivity comes great responsibility. If we’re not careful, ‘diversity’ might become an item people start checking off a list and nothing more–a shallow, shadowy thing with but one dimension.” – Nella quoting a fictional Black activist

“Ask her how much it pained her to be the only Black person in the room, and the answer varied depending on the day. It pained her to have to blacksplain cultural moments to people who didn’t understand them, like the seriousness of Kanye’s mental breakdown or the significance of seeing Black women wearing protective scarves in Girls Trip.” – Nella

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Is The Other Black Girl on your TBR? Have you already read it? What did you think about it?

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