Author: Jayne Allen
Pub. Date: Feb. 2022 (read Feb. 2022)
Series: Black Girls Must Be Exhausted #2
This is going to be a hard review to write. I was pleasantly surprised by Black Girls Must Die Exhausted last year and was really excited to rejoin Tabitha Walker for another book. I was immediately surprised by the length of this one though. BGMDE is considerably longer than BGMBM and I was concerned that some of the pacing issues from the first book would bleed into this one. Because this is a sequel, I really can’t talk about it without getting into spoilers, so I recommend checking out my review for BGMDE instead of this one if you haven’t already read it. Spoilers Below!
The main thing I didn’t like about BGMDE was that it ended too quickly. The author ties up a lot of plot points very quickly that I thought would have made a great starter for BGMBM. But instead, Allen jumps ahead in this book in a way that I thought was pretty jarring. What I liked about Black Girls Must Die Exhausted is that it dealt with complex themes with no easy answers. Tabby has a limited period of time in which to have children, but because she doesn’t have a partner who is ready to have kids, she basically has to freeze her eggs at the expense of the down payment for her future home.
When we pick up with Black Girls Must be Magic, Tabby has decided that instead of freezing her eggs, she’s going to immediately implant them and do the whole single mother thing. It’s not stated directly, but she now has a house, so I guess we’re supposed to assume that she was able to save her down payment after all. I’m not American, so maybe her healthcare did cover an implant (and it’s stated that she had an embryo implanted, not insemination), but from what I understand, in vitro is just as expensive as freezing your eggs and housing in LA isn’t exactly cheap, so this whole premise didn’t make any sense to me and was potentially lacking in research, but I don’t honestly know enough about it, so I just had to suspend my disbelief and move on.
But what I didn’t like was that the author cut the reader out of this decision making process. The book is not long (only 270 pages), so why not start with this dilemma? Why have one of the biggest decisions Tabby has to make take place off-screen? It didn’t really make sense to me and it made the book feel a little bit less like a sequel. I didn’t think it was great for Tabby’s characterization as it removes one of the key conflicts from the narrative. It was an odd choice from a character and plot perspective.
Which is really my key complaint with this book. I thought the first one offered so much of both: relatable character and plot, it left me wondering what the author was really trying to accomplish with this book. Infertility is a challenging and heartbreaking problem for many people and I didn’t really like that we just brushed over its complexity. But I do think that a single woman choosing to become a single mother is a great plot to explore, so I was still excited to get into that, only to have that plotline go off the rails with that first twist early in the novel. Surprise! It’s actually Marc’s baby.
This changes the entire dynamic of the story and the key points I thought the author was trying to make about choosing motherhood on your own terms. I’d rather see Tabby trying to navigate the world of dating and motherhood as a single parent, with all the judgements and criticisms that comes along with that, than explore the more exhausted trope of surprise pregnancy and re-hash a romance that failed in the first book. It didn’t bother me that Marc was unlikeable, I actually thought that made him more real, I just feel like we’d already done this relationship drama once already and I wasn’t interested in reading it a second time.
So why is this a hard review to write when I’m pretty much just ragging on the whole book? Mostly it’s because I love how much time Allen dedicated to talking about Black hair. I know Allen didn’t write this book for me, but I want to try and do my best to understand the history and complexity that comes with black women’s hair and I thought that was such an important part of this story. I think for white people it’s easy to think of hair as a side story, like, “oh great, Allen is addressing the workplace and cultural double standard of hair”. But that’s the problem – it’s not a side story. Hair is an important piece of culture and identity and it is important for it to be given the gravitas it deserves. The thing that I think makes this series great is that being Black is not the main point of the story, but rather it’s a story with Black characters and everything that comes along with what that means. Last month was Black History Month and I saw a lot of promo about anti-racist, non-fiction, and historical reads – I think these are important – but I also think we need to be reading more authors like Jayne Allen, Candace Carty-Williams, and Brit Bennet, who are writing Black stories, not necessarily Black history.
So while I don’t think that this was a great book in terms of structure, pacing, and characterization; it still matters because Allen is addressing something that we don’t see all that often in popular fiction. Maybe I didn’t love the love interest or some of the plot choices, but it’s important because it is a book about a successful Black woman, and that is a story I do want to read.