Review: The Other Black Girl
Updated: Apr 3, 2022
The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris (2021)
Y I K E S. Huh. That was unexpected and not... umm... yeah, just not great at all. It's been praised as a combination of The Devil Wears Prada and Get Out, which I understand, in theory, but... both of those movies are amazing. This was confusing and sooooo cringy, and because it isn't in any way advertised as sci-fi or fantasy, that part just creeps up on you in a weird, uncomfortable way.
The premise is that Nella is the only Black person at a major publishing house in NYC, until Hazel is hired, and now there are two. At first, it seems like she will be a friend and confidant for Nella - someone to commiserate with, and bond over hair grease brands (not being flippant here - this is what Nella is kind of excited about). But slowly Hazel begins to undercut Nella in small ways... micro-aggressions, just like she has experienced with her white coworkers. Is Hazel a friend, or is she out to get her? Hazel is confusing in her charming swagger coupled with cold, calculated power plays. And Nella is mostly annoying in her insecurity & meekness.
I think the idea is to point out how contemporary, white-dominated society compels Black women to be pitted against each other in the workplace in order to succeed? Instead of supporting each other and lifting each other up, they're forced into a rivalry? That's what I thought it was going to be about, anyway, along with a probing look at racial tensions in modern-day corporate America. I thought that would be really interesting to examine and unpack. The premise has real promise. But in the end, the "if you win that means I lose" narrative was very thin, and the justification for what's actually going on came completely out of left field.
Maybe I just didn't get it? I'm seeing a lot of BIPOC readers that didn't like it, but then a lot of others that did, so it's hard to say whether or not it's hitting with the demographic it is (seemingly) aiming to appeal to. I guess I'm not really sure who this book is supposed to be for. One Goodreads review summed it up like this:
This book may have been written by a Black woman but it was not written for Black women... It perpetuates the belief that women can not get along in general, and Black women in particular. Finally the Get Out “twist” was absurd. The idea that Black women are willing to side with white America to get ahead at the expense of other Black women, aka the hated house slave vs the field slave scenario, just doesn’t work for me. Or the idea that Black women are doing horrible things to other Black women for their own good. It was a very distasteful plot device.
The book also could have been at least half the length. There's something to be said for a slow-burn plot, if done right, but this was almost an entire book of "not much," followed by a flurry at the end of "ok, wow, that's a lot." Plus a plethora of extraneous characters that don't serve a purpose. The narrative was confusing, jumping from character to character - and especially odd that the "minor" character chapters were told in the first person, while the main character chapters featuring Nella were in the third. Made it feel like this wasn't really her story, and that the others were more important. But... they weren't.
To quote Tom Hanks in the movie Big:
UP NEXT: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, by Hannah Tinti