Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl (Atria Books, 2021) is a surprising, unsettling, laugh out loud, edge of your seat sort of read that comfortably sets you down one path before abruptly shifting gears and leaving the reader gulping up each page to the end in what becomes one hell of an unexpected ride. I had not read any reviews of the book prior to reading, and I strongly recommend you avoid spoilers – you need to come at it blind to fully appreciate its genius. Because of that, I’m not really going to go into much detail, especially details from the latter half of the book.
It was an uncomfortable read for me because I’m white and I read it from a place of privilege. While I didn’t work at a publishing house, I did briefly intern at one. And #publishingsowhite was a thing long before there was a hashtag. (In my younger days, that was a pound sign, y’all.) It’s a timely read. The fact that it made me uncomfortable is a good thing, and it’s part of the power of this novel – it unapologetically is a #blackgirlmagic novel that doesn’t water itself down too much to be “palatable” for white readers. And that’s the voice we all need.
Nella is the only black employee at an affluent publishing company. She’s been trying to get her company to pursue more diverse employees and authors, but there hasn’t been much forward movement. And then she smells it – cocoa butter. She can barely contain her excitement; they’re interviewing a black girl. When they hire Hazel, Nella is ecstatic. Suddenly, she’s not nearly as alone, and the two women connect on a level that only those with shared experiences can. Or so Nella thinks. But then someone starts leaving her notes, telling her to leave Wagner. Is it Hazel? Is there only room for one black girl? Is Nella just paranoid and losing her mind?
I really want to talk about hair and the historical and cultural importance of it, but I’m not. Just know that what Harris does with hair is brilliant. The Other Black Girl is not a perfect read, and it stumbles in some areas, but where it excels more than makes up for the stumbles. I want more.
Read this book.