Review: The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris
I picked this one up on a total whim (which is a rare way for me to read a book - I tend to plan out my reading lists a couple of months in advance, as seen by my attempt to organise my priority TBR bookcart...) but I'm very glad that I did pick this one up - there's a lot going on, but it's all done in a fairly masterful way.
It's a contender for my top of 2021 list (I've been on a roll of good books lately! I think even expanding my list to 20 this year, I'm going to struggle to cap it even at that!) - this book was just so incredibly well done.
Very basically, this is the story of Nella, a twentysomething Black girl who works at a very high-profile, very exclusive editor in New York City. She doesn't like (obviously) being the only Black employee on the editors' floor, she doesn't like the fact that her attempts to increase diversity were met with polite wall-erecting, and so she's thrilled when they hire another Black girl as a fellow editorial assistant. A novel that at first seemed like it was going to be literary fiction providing social commentary turns, pretty quickly, into a meta-thriller, a tongue-in-cheek satire of office culture, with precision writing, excellent character development, and a truly awe-inspiring grasp of setting and tension and that creeping, uneasy sense of dread that you get in the best mysteries.
The book is almost a two-in-one: on the one hand, it's a satire about workplace culture woven into how lonely it can feel being the only person who looks like you in an all-white space, and the ways race and class serve to other people when there's not enough representation. The second book in this one is a thriller about a conspiracy that started at Wagner and ended up stretching across the country, a conspiracy which in and of itself turns into satire and pokes fun at white people who claim meritocracy but also refuse to give up any of their own power or privileges and refuse to acknowledge their own 'benevolent' racism. The thriller bit of the novel didn't interest me as much as the satire did, but I enjoyed being along for the ride and watching the story unfold, and figure out how all the pieces fit together. The fact that the ending is so darkly unambiguous just really served to underline how dark and gripping the whole book truly was. And now, I'm not going to tell you what that is, because I really think you should read this book immediately. It was just so well-written and clever.
This is all set against the backdrop of Nella's inner voice, and her nontraditional coming-of-age story set within her own nontraditional hero's journey, and how she grappled with her own sense of identity and her own conflicting feelings of wanting to succeed in a white world while holding onto her Black identity.
There were also laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout, functioning as clever little digs that served as great comic relief as the tension ratchets upwards.
All told, this is an excellently-written novel that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, and I think it's colossally underrated. I'm very much looking forward to reading more of Zakiya Dalila Harris's books, especially considering that this is only a debut and was written in such an assured way.