February Book Review: The Other Black Girl

The Other Black Girl book with
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Imagine you were working in your dream job or profession. For Nella, the main character of this month’s book club pick, this is a reality. She is working in a prestigious publishing house, working tirelessly up the corporate ladder to become an editor herself. It sounds challenging but amazing, right?

Here’s the catch though: she’s the only Black girl in her entire office and company. Until one day, when the other, new Black girl arrives.

The Other Black Girl novelThe Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris is a debut novel with many characters and themes. We are drawn into Nella’s world and her conflict with the new girl, Hazel.

Nella has been working as an editorial assistant at Wagner Publishing for nearly two years. As a Black woman working in a predominantly white field and office, she works extra hard and hopes to bring diversity and change to Wagner. Her attempts have often floundered, yet Nella bites her tongue and keeps persevering, the dream of an editor position keeping her afloat.

When Hazel starts at Wagner, Nella is excited to have another Black girl in the office. Finally, she will have an ally and friend to help champion lesser known artists and projects! Someone will see her and understand how it feels to be in the minority and struggling to maintain your voice while also “fitting in” at the office.

Hazel does not prove to be quite the friend she imagined.

There is an immediate tension between the two of them. Hazel seems to constantly one-up Nella, going behind her back to her editor or disagreeing with her during meetings. She seems to charm everyone in the office and in turn, makes Nella appear poorly. Even when she confronts Hazel about some of these events, she plays it off as something that Nella is imagining.

But the biggest development that occurs after Hazel’s arrival is the note on Nella’s desk. It appears suddenly late in the evening, long after her coworkers have left for the night. It reads simply, “LEAVE WAGNER NOW.” No context, no recognizable handwriting, no clues. What does it mean? Who could have left it? Is it pure coincidence that it arrived after Hazel’s arrival?

Parallel to this central story is the relationship between another duo of Black women working at Wagner: Diana Gordon and Kendra Rae Phillips.

Diana’s book Burning Heart was a bestseller in 1983 and remains a favorite among readers in the present. Her best friend Kendra was the editor, and Wagner published the book. After publicly tarnishing the publishing industry, Kendra Rae Phillips disappeared from public life. This broken friendship was legendary, but the book was a huge smash for both Wagner and Gordon.

Now, Nella and Hazel are being presented a similar situation to edit a new book by a daring Black author and speaker. Will their tense relationship stay kosher? Will they both survive Wagner? Are there other, more nefarious forces at play in all of their lives?

Our book club wasn’t overly impressed with this book. While we did enjoy the tension, we wanted it sooner; the last chapters are where it all comes to fruition. We also loved the way that this book and its characters made us think about things from a different perspective or learn more about a word or phrase. Some of us had to look up “code-switching” and how to do box braids, and that part was truly educational and enjoyable.

Overall, we think The Other Black Girl is up for debate.

It did receive great reviews from The Washington Post and other media outlets. You can decide for yourself – have you read this book? What did you think?

The Cracks Between Us bookThanks for reading with us! Our March book club pick is The Cracks Between Us by Caitlin Moss!