I would be lying if I said the title of this book didn’t initially grab my attention, I don’t know much about it and thought, why not? I’m not so sure if that was the best decision, but in this week’s blog post, you’ll see the reason’s why. I review the 1st part Jayne Allen’s trilogy, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted.
Tabby Walker: Ambitious journalist, ready to take the next step with her boyfriend of 18 months, this escalates when she receives news that the chances of her having a baby is slimming
Alexis: Tabby’s childhood friend, successful realtor, married to her high school sweetheart, the picture of a “perfect marriage”
Laila: the 3rd member of the squad, loud, funny and outspoken, openly lives unapologetically by her own rules
Marc: Tabby’s boyfriend of 18 months
Tabitha Walker: Tabby’s White grandmother and closest confidante outside of her friends
Dad Walker: Tabby’s father, ( bi-racial ) left Tabby and her mother for his mistress, Diane ( a white woman ), whom he later had 2 children with
Mother: Tabby’s mother, who seems to still be bitter from the way her relationship with Tabby’s father ended
“Because you’re constantly reminded that you’re an other, so you know whatever good happened in spite of…A need for validation, maybe to be seen, approved of, to matter as an individual, not just a monolith.”
Tabby or Two, named after her beloved grandmother Tabitha Walker, is an ambitious Black journalist in LA with clear plans for her future. She wants a promotion to Senior Reporter at her local station KVTV, she would like to get married to her boyfriend, Marc, of 18 months and she would like to have children. Her life is set and she doesn’t want anything to stand in the way of this. Add to this a cast of characters, her childhood best friend, Alexis, who is married to Rob Sr., and what appears to be a “picture perfect” marriage, the flashy car, the huge wedding ring, the nice house and 2 little boys. They’re friend Laila, who is outspoken, free-spirited and funny, but she is living with her own demons. Tabby has a very close relationship with her grandmother, who raised her when her parents’ relationship ended and her mother moved out of town. She has an estranged relationship with her father, who left her mother for his mistress, Diane, because of this- there are a lot of hurt feelings and unspoken words. The book covers Tabby trying to balance all the things in her life, her career, her friends and working towards settling down, all while balancing being Black in America.
Break It Down:
I’m going to be harsh, but stay with me, this book had so much potential- it could have been so much more hard hitting and direct with its social commentary. It’s almost as if it was written by a someone who couldn’t fully speak to the Black experience. I felt like the characters were not developed enough and didn’t have any type of real grit and dimension to them- I did sense that the author attempted to do so, but I 100% feel like she completely missed the mark. There were dialogue where race and social injustice or even topics like existing while Black, and despite that- their conversation wasn’t hard hitting enough. They didn’t say anything we’d never heard of and they certainly didn’t use their Blackness in any way or touch on the nuances of being Black. The friend’s “candid” conversations were weak at best and in no way told us things we didn’t already know. A good example of a dialogue pushing boundaries and is a mirror for real conversation which occurs amongst Black people, is the show Harlem. The dialogue is raw, real, funny, but also 100% relatable, I believe their friendships, it’s flawed, complicated but also believable. It’s almost as if this book attempted to do a PG, watered down version of that. I just didn’t buy it and I wanted to.
To top it off, there were storylines that was built up throughout the book, but then flopped at the summit, or at least for me it did. For example, Tabby’s relationship or lack there of with her father. She never explains what really happened between her and him. Yes her parents got divorced, yes he married his mistress and proceeded to have a family with her, but none of that clarifies why she keeps them at arm’s distance. Especially since she does the same to her mother, who for all of the suggestions in the book, Tabby has no reason to push away. Her eventual reconciliation with her father was such a non story and I didn’t understand her wanting clarification on when knowing who the “right” person is for you. I found it completely unbelievable that someone as superficial as she is, so attached to appearances and in some way holding on to her anger against her father, would then tell him such deeply personal things and in an instant his advice melts away the years of distance and feelings of being replaced. There’s a lot I didn’t get…and a lot that needed more details which legit never came. Ergo, the fact that I felt like this book was written, almost like it wants to be turned into a tv show, but not a very good one. Even the subject of Laila’s suicide attempt, was almost a passing storyline, it doesn’t give full and utter context to the reasons why Laila felt like she needed to resort to that. It doesn’t even go near the idea that Black women give so much and all of it is fighting for an appearance to fit in, the illusion that you are even included in the conversation. Even the complexities of being a Black woman with a White grandmother, that was touched on, in a really loving and honest way, which I appreciated, but what I felt needed to happen, was Tabby being more direct and critical ( almost ) to her grandmother. She was far far more understanding and compassionate with her grandmother, than she was with Marc, someone she’s supposed to love. She allowed her grandmother to say that she never noticed the racism her grandfather and father might have experienced, and claim ignorance- yet she rips into Marc when he gets vulnerable with her. This all coming from a journalist, who is supposed to be innately curious and critical and looking for another perspective. In both those instances, she her character reacts in such different ways, it’s hard to reconcile the 2- it was just trash.
It would be mean to say the entire book, because it had merit and areas where I did find myself agreeing with statements made, but why do I feel like this book was written with the hopes that it got made into a tv/movie? There is no real depth to the characters, at least not that I felt fully resonated. For a reporter, Tabby seems really surface-level and in no way deep or even provocative in her journalism or her job, it all seems to touch ever so slightly on a subject, but not tackle or rip it completely wide open. I feel like the touches on attempts at social commentary were weak in many cases shouldn’t have been explored.
Time becomes more valuable when you realize it’s running out.
Book Club Questions
Q: Marc tells Tabby that she should not feel threatened when approached by a police officer because she is a woman, rather than a man. Do you agree with Marc? Why or why not?
A: I don’t entirely agree with Marc, but of course he is correct statistically- because there has been more males shot and killed by officers than women, but it doesn’t mean that her fear is misplaced. She is still a Black women in America, and in some way- he should have never gaslit or diminished her experience. This is an example of what I mean, when I that some dialogue could have dug deeper. Tabby simply stayed quiet, but I felt like she should have defended how she felt, she shouldn’t have allowed him to diminish her feelings.
Q: Initially, in her desperation to have a child, Tabby goes down a path of questionable decision-making. What if she had become pregnant with Marc’s “NBA baby”? What do you think Marc would have done?
A: I don’t think things would have gone very well for her and Marc, to be fair, they didn’t pan out so well anyways, but the fact of the matter is, Tabby intended to risk getting pregnant without letting Marc know that she hadn’t taken her pill and that was misleading and really icky. I feel like things would have escalated, because Marc wasn’t sure he wanted children and ultimately wasn’t ready to settle down, so this would have been the equivalent to entrapment and genuinely disrespectful.
Q: In the course of their breakup, Marc attempts to explain himself to Tabby. What do you think about Tabby’s reaction? Would you have reacted similarly or differently? If differently, how so?
A: This is one scenario in the book that I didn’t understand and the author, in my opinion, did’t do a good enough job giving context as to why Tabby would have such an aggressive and really rude reaction to Marc finally letting her know one of his biggest secrets/shame. It didn’t endear me to Tabby’s character at all and to be fair, I felt like her outburst was over the top, but also 100% misplaced. She made the situation about herself when Marc was attempting to be vulnerable, on top of that what I got from the entire outburst was the fact that this seemed to be the very 1st time she was 100% herself in front of Marc. It seems like all the other times, she was playing a role, the perfect girlfriend, completely 1 dimensional and was extremely placating, when she had feelings and goals and simply never voiced them clear enough to Marc. I would have never reacted like that, I didn’t believe raising your voice accomplishes anything when it comes to relationships and I also felt like it showed her immaturity.
Q: The role of friendship/communion is a theme woven throughout the story. What do you rely on your friends for?
A: I personally rely on my friends for support, laughter, shared experiences and to have a listening ear. Someone you can trust implicitly and know that they will motivate you, call you out on your bs and support you no matter.
Q: Which friend are you—Tabby, Lexi, or Laila? Are you a Granny Tab or a Ms. Gretchen?
A: I’m probably maybe a little bit of all of them, but I don’t feel I’m as superficial as Tabby is, but if I had to choose it would be Ms Gretchen, because she is living her best life and she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about it.
Q: By the end of the book, the title Black Girls Must Die Exhausted has taken on several meanings. What has it meant for you throughout your experience? When you first came across the book? While reading? At the end? What is your takeaway from the novel?
A: Initially, the title is super catchy and it stops you in your tracks, at least that’s how I reacted and how I came across it. While, it could have been deeper and hit on some eye-opening points, I felt like the depth stopped at the title. I can understand where it relates as each character of colour is going through something and in some ways hides it from other characters and it become a burden Tabby didn’t fully realize she was carrying.
Would I Recommend?
Ish?! It’s to support another Black author, so it’s a yes, but as a whole this book is very much a summer read, on the beach sipping a cocktail and taking it very lightly.