The Other Black Girl is a tense social commentary thriller about what happens when a New York publishing house gets a second Black girl in the office. Nella is in her twenties and trying to make it at Wagner Books, but as an editorial assistant and the only Black person in the office, it isn’t easy. When Hazel joins the company and the desk near hers, it seems like a chance to have an ally, but they’ve barely had a chance to bond before it starts to seem like people like Hazel a lot more than Nella, and notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk telling her to leave Wagner now.
Going into the book having seen it being compared with Get Out, I was aware something was going to be up, but this slow burn novel lingers on the edge, occasionally cutting to another narrative that you’re waiting to intersect with the main one, but mostly showing Nella in the office as she tries to improve her reputation at work and work out what’s going on with the notes. Without wanting to give spoilers, it is a clearly done concept that provides a sly take on Black people’s success in predominantly White spaces.
The characters are mostly there to keep you guessing about whether they might be friend or foe, especially at Wagner, and the way the book ends means you don’t necessarily get answers. Nella’s best friend Malaika provides some much needed outside perspective, especially as you don’t see much of her boyfriend Owen (which may be for plot reasons), and the mysterious side narrative shows a bit of the wider picture without taking it too far away from Nella’s story. Though some people might like more depth into some of these characters and plotlines, it’s easy to see why the narrative was written this way, adding a shadowy, sinister side even to the ending.
This is undoubtedly a debut novel that people will be talking about, combining thriller with elements of satire and also a look at microaggressions in an office environment. Even if you feel like you’re not interested in books about toxic work environments or read too many, this is something different, original and clever and with lingering dread.