Book Review: ‘The Other Black Girl’ by Zakiya Dalila Harris — I AM History

  • By Melissa Chemam

At the esteemed Wagner Books, Nella is also the only Black employee and despite her two-year lobbying to instigate conversations on diversity, the literary world is anything but receptive.

That is… until “another Black girl” is finally hired. The stunning and confident Hazel left a job in a magazine in “too-white” Boston to work at Wagner as the assistant of an unproductive editor. Nella is shocked and thrilled at the same time and hopes that Hazel will become her new favourite colleague. But Hazel seems to charm everyone else in such a whirlwind, especially Nella’s boss. She starts feeling left out, and replaceable. While she expected things to get easier with a Black companion, she now has to work twice as much to avoid being side-lined.

Hazel is also unexpectedly challenging Nella’s involvement on social and racial issues. But, if she sounds very keen to support Black causes when discussing in private with Nella, in the bosses’ office it’s another story…

Then, a few weeks after Hazel’s arrival, Nella starts receiving notes inciting her to leave her job altogether… Could it be Hazel? Malaika seems to think so. But why? Another option slowly starts to emerge too. From there, the novel shifts into a thriller-like investigation to uncover who is trying to manipulate whom and why.

Where this book hits its sweet spots comes from the way the writer, Zakiya Dalila Harris, an African-American having worked in publishing herself, weaves together different narrative voices, from 1983 to 2018, to create mystery and depth. This resonant story deals with the striking complexity of racial issues and division in today’s United States. And also draws us into the natural hair world — it’s products and hair as an identity.

Isolated at work, unable to confide in her boyfriend Owen, puzzled by encounters with these younger Black girls who seem so seduced by Hazel and successful in places where Nella and Malaika still struggle, Nella faces many more microaggressions that most readers will relate with. The book tackles the complicated conflicts between the desire to still belong in a world of long struggles for equality and the need to fight for a more desirable future.

Harris’ debut novel has become a bestseller in the first week of its release and was sold at auction to Atria Publishing Group for over $1 million. A television series pilot based on the novel is now planned. Watch out.

The Other Black Girl By Zakiya Dalila Harris (USA). Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on 1 June 2021

Originally published at https://www.iamhistory.co.uk on June 22, 2021.

Freelance journalist/writer, I’ve reported in 30 countries for the BBC, CBC, DW, magazines, on African-European relations, social change, arts, music & politics

Freelance journalist/writer, I’ve reported in 30 countries for the BBC, CBC, DW, magazines, on African-European relations, social change, arts, music & politics