I read this with two of my friends for our bookclub because we all happened to have ARCs of it at the time. The premise sounded interesting, so we were eager to jump in. I thought it would be a fast, propulsive read that would have me at the edge of my seat the entire time. But although it started out good, the story was a huge letdown by the end that left me and my group quite unsatisfied.
Get Out meets The Stepford Wives in this 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. (Goodreads)
This book is crazily overhyped. The premise holds a lot of promise that it does not deliver on, so I was annoyed at it and frustrated by the end and am now wondering why it’s getting so much buzz.
It starts out promising. Nella is a young Black woman working at a popular publishing company that is staunchly set in its whiteness and doesn’t want to budge from it. Being one of very few minorities working at the company, and the only Black woman, she experiences racial microaggression on a daily basis. However, one day another young Black woman visits the office and Nella learns that she is a new hire who will join the editorial assistant pool. Nella is happy for this, glad to have another sistah at the company to commiserate with. But the other Black girl, Hazel, doesn’t seem to fully reciprocate Nella’s feeling of companionship. Soon Nella begins to receive odd, mysterious notes at the office and realizes that there’s another side to Hazel.
It’s so hard to put my thoughts together for this book. On one hand, I want to go in detail about how I feel because I think the promotion for this book is making it out to be something it’s not. (It does not make me think of Get Out at all!) But on the other hand, I want to keep this brief because that’s faster, so I’ll shoot for the middle.
The story itself starts out interesting enough and had me hooked at first as Nella talks about her experiences being the only Black woman in an office environment and the shit she has to deal with in that situation, which I could strongly relate to. But because the plot takes the entire book to build, I felt worn down by Nella obsessing about her job and Hazel. I got so tired of Nella and the plodding plot that I was tempted to stop reading, which I did. I only finished the book so that I could discuss it with my bookclub friends, but it was torture to continue with it to the end.
The entire book is one big setup with things taking off a few pages close to the end before wrapping up so quickly that it felt underwhelming. For all the setup we received in 300+ pages, I expected a more impressive ending, but it left me with a lot more questions than answers about the intentions of the characters and the author and left me thinking that this book was not planned out well and should have been shortened.
A character introduced in the prologue and mentioned several times throughout (the former editor Kendra) seemed like she would be important to the plot but didn’t factor much in it or in the resolution, so by the end I wondered what was the point of mentioning her so often. (I really thought Kendra would be important in helping Nella in some way or leading the movement or SOMETHING!) I also wish Nella’s best friend and boyfriend had received a bit more development. I liked her best friend, but her only purpose was to serve as a sounding board for the issues Nella was having at work, and I wish her boyfriend had more substance than just being there so that Nella could complain about what it’s like having a White boyfriend who just doesn’t understand what she’s dealing with at work. We get nothing from him than that (except that one time when Nella thought he wanted her to be more like Hazel… something like that).
Nella interested me at first but quickly annoyed me. She seemed obsessed with work and Hazel, so at first, I was expecting the story to become a psychological thriller where the reader is misled in thinking Hazel is the bad one but it was Nella all along… I think that would have been way more interesting than what we got (which probably wouldn’t have been so bad if it didn’t take a weird turn into “mind-controlling hair cream” territory that’s not adequately explained). I just wish there was more to Nella than just work, Hazel, and constantly mentioning Black Twitter (which also became annoying too, like, okay. I get it. You know about Black Twitter and read it often. I get it).
The book isn’t great, but despite the issues I had while reading it, what’s really frustrating me is how it’s being promoted because it’s being made out to be this great book written for Black people containing “sly social commentary” and I can’t help wondering why this is being said. I’m still trying to puzzle out what the “sly social commentary” is. Nella straight-up calls out the issues in her work environment and book publishing, so nothing sly there. And if there is some social commentary in the bits about mind-controlling hair cream that makes Black women more tolerant of racial microaggressions in the office space, then I missed it and would like someone to explain it to me. I do not get what the author is saying with that or the fact that Black women created such a product or how the story ends. I don’t get it.
I also don’t feel like this story was written for me (a Black woman). I mean, yeah, it felt good to see something I experienced in the office space represented in the first chapter or so of the book, but Nella stays so stuck on certain things that after a while I no longer felt like I was the audience for this book. To me, Nella is either always explaining herself (trying to explain her experiences to someone so that they will validate how she feels/should feel) or is overcompensating for something (that’s what I think when she CONSTANTLY mentions Black Twitter and doesn’t talk about anything else other than work, Hazel, and some Black social commentary that leads to Black Twitter. She has NO interests outside those things).
This one didn’t work for me. I think it needed an editor to cut and tighten it up some. There was potential early on in the story, but as it kept going, it lost me. However, loads of other people on Goodreads enjoyed it, so I may be one of a handful of odd ducks on rating this so low.
It’s not a great read and the hype will have you expecting a lot more than you should. However, it is interesting and will make for great book club discussions, so I recommend that you read and discuss it with someone.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
Grab a copy from the library.
For “sly social commentary” in a debut novel about Black experience, try…
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
It’s a satire that will probably piss you off, but it’s SO good!!