Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc on 2021-06
Genres: Fiction, African American & Black, Suspense, Thrillers, Women
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris is a workplace thriller that centers on challenges Black women face in the office. The story’s protagonist works in a major publishing house as an assistant editor, the same job Zakiya had before quitting to write this novel. Thus, the novel offers commentary on the publishing industry. I had the pleasure of seeing Zakiya speak about her bestselling novel at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, CT, one town over from where she grew up. While I enjoyed the majority of The Other Black Girl, I feel like Zakiya tried combining too many genres in one novel, resulting in a confusing ending.
Nella is the only Black assistant editor at Wagner Publishing. She is thrilled when a new Black female employee is hired. Nella hopes this new employee, Hazel, will be a much-needed friend that she can confide in at the predominantly white office. However, after Hazel takes some questionable actions, Nella becomes unsure whether Hazel is an ally or a rival. When Nella finds a sinister note telling her to leave her job at Wagner, she questions whether Hazel might be responsible. The story transitions into a thriller with multiple twists and secrets, originating back decades at Wagner. I wish that Zakiya had simplified the conspiracy elements, as they were confusing and not well explained. She either needed more pages or an additional book to explore these ideas. Though I will say I loved the mechanism of the major twist!
The novel does an excellent job of featuring examples of microaggressions that Black employees face in a white dominated office. Additionally, there is commentary on the publishing industry. The wealthy, white heads of publishing are gate keepers that determine what books and types of characters will be sold to consumers. This book helped me learn how much power editors have with altering author’s manuscripts and deciding which books will become mainstream. Not only are more writers of color needed, but we need editors of color too!
Zakiya’s event at Southern Connecticut State University was a fantastic event. In a cute moment her father, who is a journalism professor at the university, introduced her to the audience. Zakiya did a reading from the novel and then answered questions from the moderator and audience about the story and the writing process. In one interesting moment Zakiya mentioned how typically Black writers feel pressure or are encouraged to only write two types of Black characters. Either flawless characters that other Black readers will be proud of or Black characters that endure horrible hardships. Zakiya hopes that there will be more space in the future for loveable yet flawed Black characters. She cited Raven Leilani’s fantastic Luster as a recent novel with a complex, likeable Black female protagonist. One sweet moment was when Zakiya mentioned her first Black teacher who taught what has become one of her favorite books, Kindred by Octavia Butler (which has been sitting in my TBR for far too long).
The Other Black Girl, while not perfectly plotted, is an important read with great characters. This book will spark many important conversations about BIPOC experiences in the workplace and the flaws in the publishing system. I am looking forward to the Hulu adaptation being produced by Zakiya and Rashida Jones!