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The Other Black Girl

de Zakiya Dalila Harris

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“The Devil Wears Prada” meets “Get Out!” in “The Other Black Girl”

In The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Atria), Nella Rogers, a twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant in New York City, loves her job. She has longed to become an editor at Wagner Books ever since reading their groundbreaking bestseller Burning Heart when she was a teenager. Nella’s dream has come true, except that she is the only Black woman on the staff. She feels isolated and disrespected by her co-workers, and her attempts to enlighten them about racial diversity prove futile until one day when something miraculous occurs.

Harlem born and bred Hazel-May McCall, a new Black editorial assistant, arrives on the scene. Hazel is beautiful, confident, outspoken, and socially conscious; all the things Nella is not, but nonetheless Nella immediately senses a whiff of competition from her new colleague; and coincidentally, Nella becomes embroiled in a string of uncomfortable events that affect her credibility at Wagner.

When Nella questions the stereotypical portrayal of a Black character in an upcoming novel from Wagner’s bestselling author, both the author and Nella’s boss Vera are affronted. As retribution, Vera mentors Hazel, leaving Nella to question her identity within the company. To prove her worth to Vera, Nella buries herself in her additional assignments, to the detriment of her relationships with her live-in boyfriend, Owen, and her best friend Malaika. Despite her efforts, Nella watches Hazel’s star rise while her’s fizzles out.

But that is not the worst of it. Threatening notes appear on Nella’s desk, warning her to “LEAVE WAGNER NOW.” Who is responsible for the threats? Is it Hazel?

Tension mounts as Nella is anonymously tipped off that Hazel is not who she pretends to be, and Nella sets out on a dangerous path to unmask her competitor. Cool-girl Hazel always seems to be one step ahead of Nella, and now Hazel’s apparent friendliness suggests a cover for darker hidden secrets. Drawn deeper into the mystery, Nella questions her own identity and whether her career here is worth sacrificing her personal life for.

Intertwined with Nella’s story are vignettes detailing the simultaneously catastrophic downfall of the editor, and mercurial rise of the author, of “Burning Heart,” a momentous book; it was the first number-one fiction bestseller written and edited by two Black women and was published by Wagner Books in the 1980s. The pair were thick as thieves, but their legendary falling-out remains the subject of office gossip and a mystery kept under wraps by the powerful owner of the publishing house.

That novel’s author found tremendous success after publication, while in contrast, the editor’s careless and racist remarks forced her to quit publishing and seek seclusion. The once-childhood friends haven’t communicated in almost thirty years, and have remained polarized by an industry demanding compliance with the rules. Tying the subplots to the main story, Nella wonders whether she holds the key to locating the editor and reuniting the two women after all these years.

On every page, the reader is drawn into the suspense of uncovering the conspiracy which was set in motion to ruin Nella’s life; will her career end as disastrously as that missing editor’s did? As an outside observer, the reader will sense impending danger before Nella does, and will wish to warn her not to open the envelope, the door, or her mouth. But Nella always does, elevating the horror of the situation. The climactic confrontation between Hazel and Nella offers a smart, witty plot twist which resonates long after the final chapter.

In The Other Black Girl, Harris, a publishing veteran, doesn’t mince words. On one level, the novel is a grippingly dark thriller about racial inequality, sexism and power in the white-dominated publishing world. Atria Books has compared The Other Black Girl to The Devil Wears Prada, a chick-lit bestseller and film about the backstabbing world of fashion and a young fashion editor’s trials to please her demanding boss.

The Other Black Girl, however, is not even a bit trite. It is a hard-hitting satire about racial inequality in our society on a broader scale — gun violence, prejudice, the media, class disparity and celebrity — dressed up in the world of book publishing. Harris’ characters are not afraid to speak their truths about contemporary issues and raise thought-provoking questions about the world we live in. The novel makes the reader feel uncomfortable and holds them responsible for being complicit in the disparity.

For readers who seek a challenging and entertaining escape, The Other Black Girl fits the bill. The creepy Get Out!-quality of The Other Black Girl is certain to spark conversations about racial diversity and the way we view ourselves for weeks, months and years to come. ( )
  JodeMillman | Dec 16, 2021 |
Compelling, chilling tale of systemic racism and personal ambition; psychological thriller dashes of satire and speculative fiction; stellar audiobook performances ( )
  Bruyere_C | Dec 2, 2021 |
pandemic read ( )
  bookczuk | Nov 19, 2021 |
The first half of the book was interesting and kept me engaged. However it began to loose me when the main protagonist continued to be so meek and wishy-washy. Then add in the magic hair products and I was gone. Not a book which I would recommend ( )
  AstridG | Nov 11, 2021 |
Very well written, totally engrossing, well drawn characters, all the plot threads were skillfully intertwined. The motivations of the villains remain a little unclear at the end, but the book is an interesting peek into the publishing industry nonetheless. ( )
  amydross | Nov 10, 2021 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Zakiya Dalila Harrisautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Abbott-Pratt, JonieceNarradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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Si et cal més ajuda, mira la pàgina d'ajuda del coneixement compartit.
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For my family—present and past
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Stop fussing at it, now.
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You don’t have to whisper the word “Black”...Last time I checked, that was a socially acceptable word to use. I even use it sometimes.
With heightened awareness of cultural sensitivity comes great responsibility. If we’re not careful “diversity” might become an item people start checking off a list and nothing more—a shallow, shadowy thing with but one dimension.
She couldn’t remember who’d said it to her first, or if it had ever been directly said to her at all, but that didn't stop her from telling herself over and over again that her brown skin meant that she needed to be twice as good as the girl with the white skin...
Her colleagues, strangely, had made it clear very early on that they didn’t really see her as a young Black woman, but as a young woman who just happened to be Black—as though her college degree had washed all of the melanin away. In their eyes, she was the exception. She was “qualified”. An Obama of publishing, so to speak.
The fact that you’re Black colors every single thing anyone ever says to you—pun intended...
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