Fantasy, Fiction, literary fiction, race, thriller

Book Review: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

“With heightened awareness of cultural sensitivity comes great responsibility. If we’re not careful, ‘diversity’ might become an item people start checking off a list and nothing more—a shallow, shadowy thing with but one dimension”

Nella is an editorial assistant at a publishing house called Wagner Books. Despite her many efforts in diversity, she is the only black employee and has to deal with the microaggressions and loneliness that comes with it. One day, through the smell of hair grease Nella is ecstatic to find that a new black employee has been hired, Hazel. Nella helps Hazel navigate the company, giving her tips and the two start to form a friendship.

Everything is going well till Nella begins to notice that she is becoming sidelined in favor of Hazel. She is not sure if it’s all in her head until Hazel leaves her hanging in a company meeting and to make things worse, Nella starts receiving threatening notes telling her to leave Wagner. As Nella tries to find out what is going on, we are also given insight into people who worked at Wagner in the past and she finds out that there is more at stake than she realized.

“Even when you just subtly imply that a white person is racist—especially a white man—they think it’s the biggest slap in the face ever. They’d rather be called anything other than a racist. They’re ready to fight you on it, tooth and nail.”

I was quite excited to read this one, even more excited when the wait list at the library was so long because that would mean it’s so good, right? Well no, wrong. This book was not it at all for me. First of all, it was quite slow. It took a while to get to the point and honestly, it still doesn’t get to the point till maybe the last few chapters. It was written from Nella’s point of view and Nella seemed like someone who wasn’t fully comfortable in being black because she grew up privileged and is dating a white guy (which I don’t consider reasons one should be unsure) She sounded timid and like she second guessed herself a lot. There is nothing wrong with that but it doesn’t exactly make for a fun read. I think the title of the book is what made me suspicious from jump when we are introduced to Hazel.

“Jesse Watson’s words about being seen as an equal to white colleagues: “You may think they’re okay with you, and they’ll make you think that they are. But they really aren’t. They never will be. Your presence only makes them fear their own absence.”

The prologue for the book introduces us to Kendra who worked at Wagner in the past and this was so confusing to me. I didn’t think it necessarily added to the story and instead complicated it. It almost seemed disjointed. I have seen many comparisons of this book to the movie “Get Out” and I see why people say it but I don’t get it. Harris decided to add a psychological thriller element to this book that I found unnecessary and drew what the focus of the book was in different directions. What I mean is – is the focus what it is to be a black person in the publishing world where noone looks like you? or is the focus that you have to be a certain kind of “black” to make it in a corporation – the latter which I found insulting.

“With heightened awareness of cultural sensitivity comes great responsibility. If we’re not careful, ‘diversity’ might become an item people start checking off a list and nothing more—a shallow, shadowy thing with but one dimension.”

Overall, I did not like this book for many reasons. It was not engaging, the characters were not compelling. Maybe this was my fault but I was not expecting a book where the black girls were competing against each other and the big twist was weird because it ultimately came down to being compliant to white people makes your life easier? Once again, I did not like this book and I do not recommend it. If you have read it and liked it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!

Taynement

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