The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris – Book review

The Other Black Girl is a psychologically suspenseful story, unlike any that I’ve read before. It pulls you in instantly, takes you on twisty journey, gives you a knowing, satirical wink and totally smashes any preconceptions you had about what the story might be.

Opening sentence: Stop fussing at it, now.

Nella & Hazel

Nella Rogers is an editorial assistant at Wagner publishing house. For years she is the only Black girl in the office, then Hazel is hired. Nella assumes they will bond, swap stories and form an allegiance, being the only two Black girls at Wagner, but that’s not quite how things play out…

Had all her campaigning for more diversity at Wagner finally paid off?

Nella starts to receive anonymous notes telling her to leave Wagner. She finds herself suspecting Hazel due to things she’s noticed about Hazels’ behaviour – particularly how Hazel is around Nella versus how she is around their white colleagues.

As well as Nella’s narration, we also get chapters from Kendra Rae, a former Wagner editor who shot to fame in the 1980s, never to be heard from again…

She’d committed one of the real ultimate sins by trying to be herself: Black. Unapologetic. Someone who told it like it was. Someone who rejected what was expected of her as a Black woman in a predominantly white industry.

Kendra’s back story is crucial to the narrative, to establishing the sinister undercurrent at play and to give context to what Nella finds herself caught up in.

The Other Black Girl

You might think you know who the other black girl of the title is referring to as you’re reading – but perceptions shift and you end up considering a few characters. That’s one of the reasons the intriguing storyline worked so well for me.

From the early chapters a sense of foreboding is established – you know we are building up to something big, but just when you think you might have something figured out, the story curves into a place I definitely didn’t anticipate. Which I found engrossing and exciting.

From its bold call out of racism within the publishing industry to its exploration on how Black people can succeed in an industry – in a world – that is institutionally stacked against them, to a story with a dry tone and sharp, satirical edge, The Other Black Girl is a read that leaves you thinking, has something to say and that I just couldn’t put down.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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