Summary and book reviews of The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl

by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris X
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
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  • Published:
    Jun 2021, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tasneem Pocketwala
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About this Book

Book Summary

Urgent, propulsive, and sharp as a knife, The Other Black Girl is an electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she's thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They've only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella's desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It's hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there's a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

Excerpt
The Other Black Girl

July 23, 2018
Wagner Books
Midtown, Manhattan


The first sign was the smell of cocoa butter.

When it initially crept around the wall of her cubicle, Nella was too busy filing a stack of pages at her desk, aligning each and every one so that the manuscript was perfectly flush. She was so intent on completing this task—Vera Parini needed everything to be flush, always— that she had the nerve to ignore the smell. Only when it inched up her nostrils and latched onto a deep part of her brain did she stop what she was doing and lift her head with sudden interest.

It wasn't the scent alone that gave her pause. Nella Rogers was used to all kinds of uninvited smells creeping into her cubicle—usually terrible ones. Since she was merely an editorial assistant at Wagner Books, she had no private office, and therefore no walls or windows. She and the other open-space assistants were at the mercy of a hardboiled egg or the passing of gas; they were often...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why do you think the author set this novel in the book publishing industry? How would the story unfold in another setting? How would it be similar or different?
  2. Recalling Colin Franklin's novel, Needles and Pins, have you ever read a book that was problematic? What was the title and what made it problematic? Why do you think it was able to get published? Was Nella right about confronting Colin about the stereotypes in Needles and Pins?
  3. At what point in the story did you feel suspicious of Hazel? What made her more likable to people in the office?
  4. The code question to enter the Resistance is, if an asteroid crashes into the Earth and destroys all Black folk except one, who do you save: Stacey Dash or Ben Carson? Why do think the author ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

What plays out is a thrilling but horrifying reveal of a conspiracy borne of experiences of racism and disenchantment, rooted in reality but taken to their logical, fictional end. The setting works very well on two counts: For one, since Harris has been employed in publishing herself, she is able to create a picture full of uncommon insight into what it is like to be a Black woman in the industry. And two, as publishing is a modern ivory tower where culture is shaped, its presence allows for commentary on those who presumably shape it. Wagner Books has hired some of the most highly educated, well-read individuals; but these (white) people, entangled as they are in their privilege, are unable to engage with questions of diversity meaningfully or to sincerely engage with experiences different from their own...continued

Full Review Members Only (691 words).

(Reviewed by Tasneem Pocketwala).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
A thrilling, edgier Devil Wears Prada that explores privilege and racism.

Lit Hub
A brilliant, twisty, and highly relevant thriller...Perfect for fans of Alyssa Cole's When No One Is Watching, or Amina Akhtar's #FashionVictim.

Essence
This twisty thriller will resonate with anyone who has struggled to find her voice as the only Black woman in the room.

The Rumpus
A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary...will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

Vogue
[A] brilliant debut...The novel takes some bold stylistic risks that pay off beautifully, leaving the reader longing for more of Harris's words and unique view on the world.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Harris debuts with a dazzling, darkly humorous story about the publishing industry and the challenges faced by a Black employee...[a] penetrating critique of gatekeeping in the publishing industry and the deleterious effects it can have on Black editors. This insightful, spellbinding book packs a heavy punch.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
If it sounds like a moralistic sledgehammer of a novel—well, it would be if Harris were any less good. In her hands, though, it's a nuanced page-turner, as sharp as it is fun. A biting social satire–cum-thriller; dark, playful, and brimming with life.

Booklist (starred review)
Racist behavior in the workplace, white colleagues' awkward attempts to pretend it doesn't exist, and the exhaustion of being Black in white spaces are all encapsulated in a pitch-perfect way by Harris...this compelling debut thriller will be in demand; a must for public libraries.

Library Journal (starred review)
A debut novel that provides a look at what it can be like to face insurmountable obstacles in the workplace and a narrative that continues to build to a satisfactory and surprising conclusion. A good choice for general purchase.

Author Blurb Walter Mosley
Witty, inventive, and smart, The Other Black Girl goes deeper to take on class privilege, race, and gender in a narrative that slyly plays along the edges of convention. Zakiya Dalila Harris's debut is a brilliant combustion of suspense, horror, and social commentary that leaves no assumption unchallenged and no page unturned.

Author Blurb Emily St. John Mandel
Riveting, fearless, and vividly original. This is an exciting debut.

Reader Reviews

Martha Whitehouse

Excellent Plot & Character Development
This is a very witty and compelling book with relatable characters.
Judy L. Sanders

ridiculous premise
I thought The Other Black Girl would be about competition in the work place, but instead it was about controlling women through their hair products (yes, their hair "grease" as it's referred to). There is also some plot drama about ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Significance of Black Hair in the United States

Angela Davis with an Afro hairstyle in 1973 In her debut thriller, The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris includes but does not explain certain concepts linked to Black life. This may be an intentional choice to move past the expectation that racialized and other marginalized authors should clarify concepts and issues that aren't commonplace in mainstream white society for those outside of a group. An example of one such subject that Harris does not address is 4C hair. Black hair turns out to be an important theme in the novel, and also a plot device through which Harris spins her fascinating horror story.

Hair is an integral part of Black culture and history. In traditional African cultures, the way one wore one's hair could signify a host of things — from family ...

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