Book: “The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Publishing Info: Atria Books, June 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: 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 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: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
Satire and horror go together like cheese and crackers as far as I’m concerned, and I’m always looking for some good commentary in the horror stories that I consume. When I came across “The Other Black Girl” by Zakiya Dalila Harris on my Twitter feed, I was immediately interested. Described as a mix of “Get Out” and “The Devil Wears Prada”, I went to see if I had access to a copy on NetGalley, and downloaded it post haste. I’m always one for workplace drama thrillers, but even more important it’s always great to see more diverse voices have space in genres that can feel very white a lot of the time. And if you’re going to say “Get Out” as a descriptor, well, I’m almost certainly in.
“The Other Black Girl” definitely lives up to the pop culture descriptors, though I would also throw in the horror movie “Bad Hair” as well, as “The Other Black Girl” takes on not only racism and microaggressions, but specifically Misogynoir in a work place that doesn’t think it has a racism problem, and weaponized tokenism. Our main character is Nella, an editorial assistant at the prestigious Wagner publishing house, and is the only Black woman in her department. Her job is exhausting enough on its own, and having to maneuver a work place that is filled with seemingly well intentioned white people who are constantly tossing microaggressions her way just makes it all the more isolating and tiring. Harris does a really good job of establishing the work environment and culture of Wagner, and how it bogs Nella down. Nella is a sympathetic and relatable protagonist, who is really hoping for success at Wagner, but is also insecure in her wants and needs to be accepted by a workplace that doesn’t really give her a chance. From the jump, you understand Nella, and her characterization is drawn in a way that her choices down the line make sense.
So when Hazel is hired on, Nella’s relief and excitement is palpable that she may at least have a companion in this difficult sea to navigate. Of course, nothing is ever that easy, and what seems could be a racist and sexist industry making two Black women feel like they have to be pitted against each other, is actually something far more insidious. What that is, we don’t know, but Harris is more than happy to slowly unpack and reveal darker and more far reaching dangers for Nella, all of it satirizing and critiquing white industries and how they treat their Black employees, and how these power structures can in turn make these employees feel the need to outgun each other, or conform to racist mores in order to succeed. Especially if those employees are women. And while these themes may be taken to outlandish places within this story (I’m holding this all close to the vest, though, as I think you need to go in with little idea of where Harris is going to take you), as satire is works really, really well.
And as a thriller novel, I’d even go so far as to say horror novel, “The Other Black Girl” is completely effective. I was totally sucked in right away, wondering who was trying to intimidate Nella, wondering what Hazel’s motivation was, and wondering how everything connected. Especially since early one, we see that there are other players who are a part of this story, some of whom we don’t know how they connect to Nella’s situation. I loved how Harris slowly established settings, timelines, and players, and then carefully and slowly brought them together. While sometimes the structure could be a little confusing (there were moments where we’d go into an extended flashback in the middle of an action point, which caused a little whiplash), overall I felt that all the pieces fall into place when they need to. On top of that, there is also a lot of humor in these pages, most of which comes from Nella’s close friend Malaika, who is a bit more confident and willing to give Nella some hard truths with wit and sarcasm. All of these things make this book not only a biting social commentary, but also super entertaining and a page turner until the very end.
“The Other Black Girl” is a buzz worthy and propelling horror-thriller that has a lot to say about Misogynoir and racism. If you like satire in your horror like I do, absolutely do not miss this.
Rating 9: A suspenseful an satirical horror-thriller about race, identity, and the workplace, “The Other Black Girl” has bite and hard truths, as well as some genuinely funny moments.