Book Review Quick Hits: "The Other Black Girl" by Zakiya Dalila Harris

A thriller set in the book publishing industry? Intriguing.

By Caleb Calhoun | Powderly Branch Library, Library Assistant Ⅱ

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris was one of the most heralded releases of 2021—and with good reason.

Harris, who spent several years as an editorial assistant and then an assistant editor with Knopf/Doubleday Publishing, uses her inside knowledge of the industry as the basis for this unbuttoned and fictional look at racial dynamics in the publishing world.

Fast paced and clever, Harris allows her characters, and the situations they find themselves in, to speak for themselves.

Rather than explain every nuance and cultural statement, she expects the reader to do some of their own research.

Harris subtly breaks the third wall at times, pulling the reader and their research into the dialogue.

Keep your eyes out for Zakiya Dalila Harris—she has more hits to come. 

An early example of this brilliant technique, main characters Nella and Hazel converse about their hair in the company elevator.

After their conversation that uses specific phrasing likely unknown to a broader (and admittedly whiter) audience, Nella turns her attention to the white co-worker in the scene:

Nella watched maybe-Elena thumb through her phone, seemingly deep in concentration. There were no headphones in her ears, so she’d probably heard their entire conversation, Nella realized. She closely eyed maybe-Elena’s plain, light brown bob and wondered how much Black hair talk she had ever been exposed to. Was she Googling ‘twisting’ and ‘4B’ and ‘kitchen’?

And sure enough, the fourth white person in the scene—myself as the reader—was reading with the book on the counter while my rogue left hand used my phone to define those very words.

This technique connects the reader to the characters, allowing them to feel the awkwardness inherent to these interactions and understand just how far removed they may be from other cultures around them.

A daily elevator ride becomes a reflection on self-awareness that stares back at you from the stainless-steel doors of the elevator.

The Other Black Girl, however, is far more than a referendum on societal issues.

Engaging from the start, Harris’ book is a page-turner even before the plot truly surfaces. The dialogue is fast-moving and natural, the characters believable, and the story-line entertaining.

At times a mystery, at others an intentionally campy sci-fi in the vein of The Blob and other mid-century horror films, The Other Black Girl establishes itself as a powerful work of literature without taking itself too seriously.

If you are looking for a fast-paced novel with just the right amount of conscience and social commentary, then this book is a no-brainer.

Stop by Powderly Branch Library or any of our other Birmingham Public Library locations to pick up a copy today!

Caleb Calhoun

Powderly Branch Library, Library Asst. II