13 Hours 33 Mins | Simon & Schuster Audio | Literary ? | 6/1/2021
Editorial assistant Nella Rogers is used to being the only Black girl at Wagner Publishing. Then Hazel McCall is hired as a new editorial assistant. Nella is optimistic that the new Black girl–with her activist lineage and “Harlem cool”–will help her challenge the company’s diversity problem. Instead, Nella finds herself slowly pushed out of the comfortable place she secured for herself in the company.
I’m not the biggest fan of books where racial trauma is used like this but I came into this book thinking it was a thriller so I assumed I’d at least get enmeshed in a unique world and it would have compelling plotting. But this book toes the lines more of literary fiction with speculative elements. It has elements of modern Black horror like Get Out and social satire like The Sellout but at the end of the day doesn’t really say anything. I just thought this was kind of silly and found it extremely tedious.
I do not know how to review this book without spoilers so….
*Here be spoilers *
The big “twist” of this book is that Hazel is a part of a cabal of Other Black Girls (aka OBGs) who use a scientifically engineered hair grease to smooth out their metaphorical edges so they can thrive in an all-white workspace. While most OBGs are voluntary, some are dispatched out to I guess…befriend unsuspecting Black women and put the grease in their hair involuntarily? But because of some glitch in the formula, the OBGs are also hyper-competitive with other Black women and also push them out of the job? It was not super clear to me how any of this is supposed to work.
Alongside Nella and Hazel’s story, we get flashbacks to Wagner Publishing in the 80s and the origins of OBGs is slowly revealed. We also get a POV from a girl joining a resistance against OBGs. The way these three storylines came together was clunky and left me with so so many questions.
A big criticism that I see for this book is that reads like it was written for the white gaze and I can see that. I’m sure the white people who worked on this book were moved by the portrayal of Nella suffering Nice White Lady racism and microaggressions. But I’m not sure what Black women would get out of this book? In some ways this is book is really more about respectability politics since this is Black women trying to change other Black women in a way they see as more appropriate.
It’s also odd to me that the women who are voluntary OBGs are women who grew up and went to college in Black spaces, while the women who get involuntarily changed are the ones who lived around whiteness. It feels like it should have been the other way around. I wish the text had examined more of the internal politics of Black women and work but the focus is so heavily focused on surviving whiteness.
The audiobook is solidly narrated by How To Get Away with Murder alum Aja Naomi King who sounds NOTHING like she does on the show. Like, none of her voices in this book are her character Micheala, I couldn’t believe it was her. She is joined by Joneice Abbot Pratt and Bahni Turpin, who I’ve enjoyed on other books and new-to-me narrator Heather Alicia Simms.
I’m a lifelong reader who started blogging about YA books in 2011 but now I read in just about every genre! I love YA coming of age stories, compelling memoirs and genre bending SFF. You can find me talking all things romance at Romance and Sensibility.