Review | The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris

OtherBlackGirlBrilliant book. Like the best kind of horror, The Other Black Girl takes what may be too big for words and turns it tangible. I’m not Black and can’t speak to how this will resonate with Black readers, but as an Asian woman working in a mostly-white arts and culture sector, I related hard to Nella’s need to play the game in order to succeed, while still staying out and proud about her Blackness.

The author does a good job in exploring the various ways Black women need to compromise just to survive in the workplace, which all seem miniscule at first but add up. Nella’s epiphany at the end hits hard, particularly in how it extends far beyond the fantastical horror elements that frame the story.

There’s a great passage where Hazel is massaging conditioner into Nella’s hair. The sensation reminds Nella of her mom doing the same to her as a child, and she muses on how such moments centered on hair are unique to Black mothers and daughters. The significance that hair plays in the story therefore takes on even deeper resonance. And if it hit me hard as an Asian woman, I can only imagine how much more it would strike Black readers who may have similar associations from childhood.

The only snag for me is that I wish the horror subplot had been fleshed out more. Without giving too much away… Who started it? How far does it extend? What’s the resistance group’s long-term game plan? And the reveal about a powerful white person involved – what’s their game plan? I feel like there are all these loose threads that I wanted to know more about, but just as that part of the novel’s world began expanding, the story narrows back towards its ending.

That being said, the ending still packs an emotional punch, and left me, at least, troubled and thoughtful.

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