Nella has been the only black girl working at Wagner Books since she started, so when Hazel appears in the cubicle next to her, she is thrilled to have an ally at last. Hazel seems to befriend everyone she meets and fits in immediately. When Nella receives an anonymous note telling her to leave Wagner now, she can’t believe Hazel would have left it, but then who else, after all this time?
With the whole What Kids Taught Me debacle in UK publishing right now, The Other Black Girl seems more relevant than ever. I could believe some of the conversations Nella has with her colleagues happening in real life, and as the only black girl in the office until now, there’s been a lot of pressure on her to be the sole representative for black voices. But she’s only an assistant and speaking out can put her job at risk.
From the get-go you know there’s something sinister going on as it tells of an editor fleeing New York in the opening pages. Then it returns to the present and where Nella discovers the new girl is black. She’s so happy to have someone on her side. The presence of Hazel gives Nella the courage to point out the racist stereotype in a bestselling author’s book, and then things start going wrong.
Soon Nella starts to get paranoid. Is Hazel out to get her? She seems so nice to her face. Is there someone else who wants her gone from the company? The bulk of the story is Nella’s perspective but it does switch to the past, telling the story of a black editor and her author who were at Wagner before her, as well as a mysterious woman who is part of a resistance.
Just to warn you if you’re expecting a wholly realistic tale, it does veer off into Black Mirror territory. Pay close attention to all the reference to hair care. After reading Emma Dabiri’s Don’t Touch My Hair earlier in the year, I felt that the book wanted space to explore that part of being black, and it was clever how that was brought into the plot.
It talks about code-switching, putting on a different personality for work purposes, which I think is something a lot of people have to do to get by. I can understand both sides of the OBG argument, wouldn’t life be easier if you could just coast on through without worrying or being angry? Is it worth giving up a part of yourself? It also raises questions of allyship, should we really expect Hazel and Nella to want exactly the same things because they’re both black?
It took me a silly amount of time to catch on the OBG referred to Other Black Girl. To my defence, I listened on audio and I half heard it and thought it was to do with their gynaecologist which didn’t really make sense, but I just assumed I’d missed something!
20 Books of Summer #12
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