Zakiya Dalila Harris – The Other Black Girl

Zakiya Dalila Harris – The Other Black Girl

Nella Rogers has achieved what she could only dream of, at 26 she is editorial assistant at one of the most prestigious publishing houses. The only thing she has been struggling with the last two years is how the idea of diversity has never entered her workplace, after the Asian girl left, she is the only person with a different background. Things change when unexpectedly Hazel is employed and gets the cubicle next to her. Nella senses immediately that with another black girl, they might finally make a change in publishing, promote more diverse authors and bring forward new topics relevant to a large audience which wasn’t addressed so far. However, it does not take too long until Nella’s work life starts to go downhill.

Zakiya Dalila Harris’ debut novel has been called one of the buzz books of 2021 by several magazines. I was intrigued by the blurb immediately, a kind of horror version of “The Devil Wars Prada” sounded totally enthralling. For a long time, “The Other Black Girl” could fulfil the expectations, there is a highly uncomfortable feeling creeping around, yet, the end was a bit too much for my liking.

Nella is quite a likeable young woman, hardworking and even though not an activist she is following the Black Lives Matter movement even before this becomes a widespread phenomenon and big news. She imagines being able of making a change in the publishing industry but first needs to get at the position where she has the actual power to do so. Therefore, she is quite assimilated and she swallows comments from her colleagues even though they might be quite offensive for persons of colour. With the arrival of Hazel she seems to get an ally and befriends her immediately.

For the reader, even though there are some chapters which seems unrelated to Nella’s story but hint at some goings-ons beyond her scope, it is obvious that Hazel is not the friendly and reliable colleague Nella assumes, this was an aspect which annoyed me a bit, I didn’t get the impression of Nelly being that naive and credulous at first and would have liked her to be a bit cleverer in relation to what happens at her workplace.

The novel, however, is quite strong at portraying Nella’s feelings as being the only black girl, the role she assigned to as representative of a totally diverse group which is just too simplistic, yet, nobody really seems to care about the concept of diversity, having one black girl is enough. She has other issues than her colleagues, especially the talk about hair was quite a novelty, even though this is a huge topic if you do not have the easy-care blond hair.

Overall, I liked the writing and found Nella’s perspective and the insight in the publishing world interestingly realised.

Kate Stayman-London – One To Watch

Kate Stayman-London – One to Watch

Bea Schumacher is successful blogger – fashion blogger even though as plus size woman this is not necessarily a field where people would expect her. After being disappointed again by Ray with whom she has been in love for many years now, she accepts the offer to take part in the TV show “Main Squeeze” where 25 men compete for her love. Is this a way of finding the perfect match? Bea is hardly convinced and the first encounter with the good looking competitors seem to confirm her worst expectations: disappointed by her body shape, they do not shrink from humiliating her in front of a large audience. But slowly she discovers that some might be able to see beyond her body and detect the woman that she is. Yet, can this really be true or is it just to promote their own popularity?

Kate Stayman-London’s novel oscillates between totally hilarious and deeply sad while addressing some absolutely serious topics. The text is a collage of different text types, the actual narration is interrupted by Bea’s blog entries, Internet comments and newspaper articles which makes it a lively and authentic read since this is how we consume information today: they come in different shapes and only together do they form a whole picture. However, the story relies on the protagonist, a woman who is easy to sympathise with, you simply cannot not love Bea.

What I appreciated most, was how Bea’s weak sides were presented. Never has she felt at ease in her body, the pressure of fitting in and fulfilling certain expectations of the female body’s look have haunted her since her teenage years. Nevertheless, she has become a spokeswoman for those who do not conform which is easy as long as she is more or less invisible behind her blog – being exposed on TV is a different story. TV just like the fashion industry is all but diverse in all respects. The novel convincingly criticises this, yet, they depend on the audience who also needs to move on and open up for other protagonists.

A novel to dive in and enjoy the read.