In July, when Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open to focus on her mental health, it felt like permission for other Black women, who also want to put themselves first, to give themselves the same opportunity. Later, when Simone Biles withdrew from the Olympic gymnastics competition for the same reason, it was similarly reaffirming.
But in Jayne Allen’s debut novel, “Black Girls Must Die Exhausted,” readers are reminded of many ways Black women are not afforded tranquillity, time or space to just be. The main character, Tabitha Walker, is a reporter at a local news channel in Los Angeles. She is juggling infertility, fear of police brutality, an entangled family history, and the frustration and indignity of being overlooked at work simply because her managers can’t relate to her as effortlessly as they do her white male colleagues. Tabitha’s fury consumes her. As the book progresses, her life calls to mind the experience of being stuck in a vacuum-sealed bag, with air slowly disappearing.
Like many Black women, Tabitha leans on her friends: Lexi Carter, who has the family life she dreams of, and Laila, who is able to find comedy in just about anything. All three women are dealing with their own stressors, but they come together to support one another when a blow causes one to tumble. Even Lexi has to deal with life-shattering troubles when she discovers her husband’s infidelity on social media.
What readers will discover in “Black Girls Must Die Exhausted” is this: Black women figure it out. Whether Allen’s characters are contending with a problematic manager at work, a husband’s poor decisions or a grim diagnosis, they come together and empower one another with a web of understanding and love that is not available elsewhere in their lives, where they have to project an image of perfection. (more)