Grab a cup of tea or coffee and settle in because this is going to be a long one! I had so many thoughts while reading The Other Black Girl* by Zakiya Dalila Harris.
I definitely had really high expectations for this book and my feelings about it went on a bit of a rollercoaster ride as I was reading it. When I first started the book, it made me feel so nostalgic about my time working in publishing. I felt like I was Nella in a way, once upon a time, although she’s in editorial and I worked in contracts/rights and permissions. I was reminiscing about the people I worked with and the office politics. At one point, Nella describes the drama about a junior staffer getting their own office (rather than an open cubicle) and I laughed to myself because I definitely remember discussions like that happening back in the day.
As the reader, we can see that Nella’s coworkers have categorized her as the exceptional Black person, and that’s why she’s palatable in their minds. She’s not like “other Black people,” whatever that means (we know what that means). I truly felt for Nella because as we know, publishing is a very white space, and it is not easy at all to be a Black person in those spaces.
I thought there was so much good dialogue in this book, specifically the way that Harris wrote some of the conversations between Nella and her supposedly liberal white colleagues. Conversations where they can’t stop dropping the word “diversity” to the point where it loses all meaning. A moment where a white coworker mixes her up with the other Black girl. I think Harris really captured these interactions and they had me nodding my head in recognition. The microaggressions are constant and exhausting and we can see the toll it takes on Nella.
Then after a bit, the book took a turn that I wasn’t really expecting. We got introduced to some new characters, and I was kind of confused and unsure where the story was going. I was interested to see what happened, but at the same time, I wasn’t really feeling the thriller aspect of the story. I wanted more tension, or maybe I wanted more overt tension. And I do feel like I finally got that within the last seventy-five pages or so. It felt like the tension was dialed up from like a two to a seven or eight, so that was exciting.
When we finally found out what was happening, I was quite skeptical and I wasn’t really buying it. But, the more we learned and the more I thought about it, the more I was willing to accept the narrative arc. I sat with my feelings for a bit and then I was like, “Oh, this is pretty messed up!” That’s all I’ll say about that because I don’t want to get into spoilers, but as I reflected, I felt that I had a better understanding of what the author was trying to do there.
After finishing the book, I understood why additional perspectives were included, but I thought that they could have perhaps been executed a bit better. And overall did it work for me as a thriller? Kind of. As I mentioned, I thought it was lacking some tension in the first chunk of the story, that I didn’t really feel until later. But it did keep me on my toes because I did not know how it was all going to come together for most of the book.
Again, I loved that this was set in the world of publishing. I think this behind-the-scenes view of a publishing house is great because I feel like there’s a lot of mystery around how publishing actually works. And I appreciated the author’s social commentary about the difficulties of being a Black person working in a predominantly white space.
See, I told you, I definitely had a lot of thoughts about this book! And for that reason, I think it would make a good buddy read or book club pick because I can see how people would have feelings across the spectrum about this one. I thought it was a strong and ambitious, but not perfect, debut and I’m looking forward to seeing what she writes next. If you’ve read it, I’d love to chat down in the comments below!
*Thank you to the publisher for giving me a free copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
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