In Harris’ slyly brilliant debut, a young editorial assistant is thrilled when her glaringly White employer hires another Black woman—but it soon becomes clear there’s something sinister about the new girl, who isn’t what she seems.
Young, literary, and ambitious, Nella Rogers has spent the last two years as an editorial assistant at Wagner Books, a premier New York City publishing house, where, for the entirety of her (somewhat stalled) tenure, she’s been the only Black person in the room. How she feels about this depends on the day—for all her frustrations, she can’t help but be a little proud of her outsider status—but still, she’s excited when she detects another Black girl on her floor: finally, someone else who gets it. And she does, at first. Wagner’s newest editorial assistant, Hazel-May McCall, cool and self-possessed, is quick to befriend Nella, echoing her frustrations with the never-spoken racial politics of their office, encouraging her to speak up. But it doesn’t take long for Nella to realize there’s something off about Hazel, even if she can’t quite put her finger on it. There’s something weird about how easily she fits in among the higher-ups at Wagner, about the way she's instantly and universally beloved by top editors, the way her story—born in Harlem, daughter of civil rights activists, a grandfather who died protesting—exactly matches their ideas about Blackness in a way that Nella’s middle-class suburban childhood never will. And then, shortly after Hazel's arrival, the first anonymous note arrives on Nella’s desk: “Leave Wagner Now.” Hazel? And if not Hazel, then who? Nella begins searching for answers—and in the process, finds herself at the center of a dangerous conspiracy that runs far deeper than she ever could have known. If it sounds like a moralistic sledgehammer of a novel—well, it would be if Harris were any less good. In her hands, though, it’s a nuanced page-turner, as sharp as it is fun.
A biting social satire–cum-thriller; dark, playful, and brimming with life.