Review: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

by Heather Caliendo
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The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris is an edgy novel that is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. A must-read!

Oh man, this book is incredible! I had high expectations (which is why I included it in my summer book club list) and they were beyond met. It’s hard to categorize the novel in many ways—it’s full of social commentary but also serves as a thriller. But not like those psychological thrillers that keep flooding the marketplace. It’s more of a slow burn mystery. One where you keep asking yourself, what is going on here?? And when you find out—you’ll be shocked. Guaranteed.

The Other Black Girl is pitched as Devil Wears Prada meets Get Out. I did not understand the Get Out reference for the longest time, until suddenly it becomes very apparent why those comparisons were made.

What’s the Story About

We follow Nella, the only black employee at Wagner Books, a prestigious publishing house. She’s working as an editorial assistant and has dreams of becoming a book editor one day. While she tries to make a difference and elevate black authors, her white colleagues continue to overlook her day after day.

Until the company hires another black employee—Hazel. Initially, the two immediately bond over their shared circumstances. But it doesn’t take long for Nella to have her suspicions about Hazel. She quickly becomes the office darling while Nella feels very much left out.

Then, Nella starts to receive hostile messages telling her to leave Wagner. As she searches for the truth, Nella is forced to make huge life-altering decisions.

Diverse Voices

The murder of George Floyd last year changed the world. During this time, the publishing industry was also called out. Publishing is predominantly white—the agents, publishers, editors and authors. It’s not a stretch to say there are groups of people who consider themselves well-read tend to only read books by authors of the same race (white readers reading white authors).

I think it’s a disservice to only read books by authors of the same race and gender of yourself. Those who do that are denying themselves a whole big world of books.

Publishing Industry

Just like many entertainment industries, publishing is about who you know. Yes, there are the rare authors who aren’t connected. But a majority of authors have some type of connection—went to the right school, works for big time media, etc. And again, authors who are able to break through are majority white. The industry is working on changing this and I think even this year does reflect a more diverse line of books published.

I completely read with interest Zakiya Dalila Harris’s take on the publishing industry. After all, she worked for Knopf/Doubleday three years prior to writing The Other Black Girl. So you know some of the characters in the novel were inspired by real people! And geez, it sounds rough, especially for a woman of color.

There is plenty of biting commentary that really brings to light microaggressions in the workplace and not feeling respected.

I thought Nella was a compelling character and I truly rooted for her to find success in publishing while also wishing she would run away from the toxic environment.

Verdict

I’m not talking much about the plot on purpose—I don’t want to give anything away!! But if you see thriller and are worried it will be along the psychological arena, it’s not. There are thrilling elements but this is an examination of privilege and racism. Really brilliant work of fiction. Can’t recommend this one enough!

For book clubs, check out my questions here.

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