Book Review: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

For approximately two-thirds of The Other Black Girl, I felt like I was reading a smart, contemporary novel about young women in the workplace, modern publishing industries, and the issues that Black women deal with. Then, quite suddenly, the book turned into something far more nefarious and confusing. To the point that I had the thought, Wait, is this character an alien?? (Spoiler: There are no aliens in this book.)

I listened to this one primarily on audio but had to return it before I finished. I managed to then get it out in a physical copy from the library and perhaps this added to my confusion because I was definitely flipping back and forth trying to figure out what I missed.

Nella is in her early twenties, an assistant editor at Wagner Books. This is her dream job, the publisher of her favourite novel, Burning Hearts – notable for being both written and edited by black women. Nella has been at Wagner for 2 years and is starting to wonder if she’ll ever be able to move up the ladder. As so many Black men and women do, she deals with micro-aggressions in the workplace and so is excited when another young Black woman is hired. Hazel is cool and knowledgeable and it isn’t long before Nella begins to feel overshadowed by her.

Without being heavy-handed, the story had a lot to say about what it meant to be a Black woman in a predominantly white industry. About how it might feel or be perceived when suddenly you’re not the only one. Nella is from Connecticut, has grown up almost always surrounded by white people (including her white boyfriend), and is only recently working to embrace her identity as a Black woman. Part of why she feels intimidated by Hazel is because Hazel is far more immersed in Black culture.

The story begins to take a turn when Nella starts to receive vaguely threatening notes. The first one orders her to LEAVE WAGNER NOW. Is this an act of racism? Or is it someone trying to warn her?

Interspliced with Nella’s perspective are snippets of other women, their sections occurring at a parallel time to Nella’s, though the connection is unclear until almost the very end. And the end…I just don’t know what to think about the end. What is revealed changes the whole tone of the book entirely and while it was kind of intriguing, I was mostly left feeling disappointed. At the same time, I am not the target audience of this book. It felt like this was a book written for young Black women. And while I think a lot of my frustrations about the reveal and the ending are universal, I do wonder if women who have experienced in real life the things Nella does on the page will find something more to identify and sympathize with here.

A note on the audio: As I said, I listened to most of the book and enjoyed it a lot in that format. There was one narrator who did all of the sections that focused on Nella and then the other characters’ sections had separate narrators and I felt like that worked well and always made it clear who we were with.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris”

  1. Well, now you have me so intrigued that I jumped over to Goodreads to see if I could find spoilers. The book is described as “Get Out meets The Stepford Wives,” which definitely implies body swapping or aliens or something. I read spoilers for this book on Reddit, and it does sound like a quick ending. Actually, the descriptions sound more like Us than Get Out (both movies by Jordan Peele).

    1. The Stepford Wives comparison is apt. I haven’t seen Get Out but what I know of it, it doesn’t seem that similar except that it features Black characters. The ending was a quick one and I really wish it had been developed a bit more.

    2. In Get Out, the well-known spoiler is that this white family is luring in young Black men, and then all their old rich white friends come for a lottery of sorts to see who gets to have their brain put into the Black person’s (healthy, strong) body.

    3. That’s kind of what I knew of the movie and I don’t see the similarity here, aside from the fact that there are Black characters.

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