Hmm, I’m afraid to say I was left feeling confused and disappointed by The Other Black Girl, the first novel from black author Zakiya Dalila Harris.
An okay start. Poor finish. Not the ideal way to finish a novel.
If you’re seeking to read this book based on the comparison it is like ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ – please, don’t. I’m not sure who let this be printed in the publishing house, but this is very misleading and not at all correct. I understand it may be because it is predominantly about women in an office environment, however that is pretty much it.
The novel started okay as we meet Nella Rogers, the only black girl working for the publishing house Wagner Books in New York where she deals with her white counterparts. I was not a fan of Nella, she is moody and unlikeable, even with her friends and boyfriend, not just her colleagues.
Set in 2018, Nella is clearly overlooked and was hired just to fill gaps of being an ‘inclusive’ house, much to the ignorance of higher subordinates ignoring the fact it needs to go beyond that through to publishing more black authors. Her opinion is not valued nor welcomed, even when asked for it as will be learned shortly.
She is the only black girl until another comes along following the smell of cocoa ‘black buttah’: Hazel.
Whilst Hazel seems too good to be true in the office, she gets on well with her colleagues, yet Nella keeps her distance which further adds to my dislike for her: is it poor jealousy? Or just a lack of desire to get to know her new black colleague?
Things looked like they were turning a corner in a meeting with successful author Colin, however when asked for her opinion by editor Vera, Nella makes it clear she disagrees with the messaging of his new novel, and black character: Shartricia, implicitly accusing him of being a racist and ignorant with his character’s name. I mean, the former part of the name isn’t exactly favourable, is it Colin?
Anyhow, much to Vera and Colin’s dismay, Nella has landed herself in trouble and has to watch her step. I guess it’s no coincidence that she soon receives written messages on her desk; ‘LEAVE. WAGNER. NOW.’ as well as texts and more messages left in her bag.
Is this Vera’s way of expressing her anger? Or maybe Hazel? Or another culprit…
I liked the insight into the publishing industry, however there seems to be an obsession with hair throughout the novel and confusing switches between past and present of black author Kendra Rae who was famous in the 80s, yet pretty much vanished. I’m not sure if it was my interpretation or ignorance, but I soon became very confused with the purpose of Hazel being at Wagner as the reason for the notes is (almost) explained in the final 30 pages of the book (yeah, seriously. )
Where was the editor?! The irony.
I just didn’t get it.
What was the actual intention of the notes and the work of a ‘resistance’? This explains my confusion and disappointment, so much so I looked at other reviews online and it seems others share similar views.
It’s a touchy subject to discuss without going into delicate territory, but I gathered that it is mainly written to be a satirical novel, with a lot of reference to black culture. It is unnecessarily wordy and confusing in the story’s approach to overthrow the system, ending up with an incomplete story and unsatisfactory ending.
Rating – 3/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Genre – thriller, suspense, women’s fiction