Brown Girl in the Room
This underwhelming debut novel follows second-generation immigrant Sara Ramnarine as she begins a new senior public relations job at Albatross Community Services in Toronto. Her boss hopes she will be able to make inroads with the South Asian community because her family emigrated from the Caribbean. The first obstacles she encounters are her coworkers: Anna, a white, embittered employee, sees her as a nothing more than a diversity hire, and Venah, another South Asian woman, treats Sara as an impostor because Sara was raised in Canada, doesn’t speak Hindi or wear a sari, and prefers not to use her full name, Saraswati. Following Sara’s early professional successes that infuriate Anna and Venah, her work life starts to unravel. Sara is routinely gaslit and punished for doing her job well above the standards set for her. Ramsingh creates a mostly believable, true-to-life workplace filled with conflicting egos and low-key racism that’s as damaging as anything overt. The book’s message is strong, but it suffers from weak writing that lacks subtlety, one very abrupt turn, an antagonist dropped almost entirely from the final act, and clunky narration. It is a worthwhile story whose characters are unfortunately hindered by the book’s poor execution. (Nov.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated where the protagonist's family had emigrated from and also mischaracterized the age of a character.