A Hundred Other Girls
by Iman Hariri-Kia
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2022
Reviewed by Victoria Radnothy
The Devil Wears Prada will forever live in pop culture as a time capsule of early 2000s female-centered media. And while Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Stanley Tucci will continue to be praised for their work in this iconic film, aspects of the movie have not aged well. Leaving the re-watch eliciting more nostalgia than relatability and genuine reflection of the current state of careers in media.
Iman Hariri-Kia’s debut novel, A Hundred Other Girls aims to change and update this familiar narrative to better reflect the evolving media industry, especially in regards to the shift away from print publication. And as we know, it’s all about digital these days.
The main character Noora is a spunky Middle Eastern American whose dream is to be a journalist, focusing on her own heritage and culture. Yet still maintaining the relatable humor of living in the big apple and the antics that come with it. But before Noora gets her big break, she gets hired on staff at Vinyl magazine, a fashion and lifestyle brand that’s best compared to Cosmopolitan and Teen Vogue. But not as a writer. She will be the assistant for the tyrannical editor in chief, Loretta James. You see where this is going — it’s a familiar story.
All of Noora’s relationships are tested because of this new job that’s demanding not only of time but of her mental health. What follows is a series of humorous antics, the battle between the print and digital teams, extravagant galas, social media scandals and countless attempts at live Instagram reels by an out of touch Loretta James. It’s The Devil Wears Prada, instead it doesn’t take itself too seriously like the team at Runway did. This novel embraces more of the comedy and humor of the publication industry, giving it a more lighthearted tone than its predecessor. But tread lightly as you continue reading, spoilers are ahead.
Hariri-Kia’s choice to tell this story through the lens of a Middle Eastern American, not only reflects Hariri-Kia’s heritage and culture, but it also mirrors the makeup of New York City. As one of the most iconic cities in the world, it’s also one of the most diverse locations with its myriad of different ethnicities and cultures. Needless to say, it’s a shame it’s taken fictional narratives this long to tell stories other than from a white perspective.
Despite this, Noora is still just as lovable as the young Anne Hathaway. In fact, she’s even more spunky. And while I must admit, some of her dialogue can read a little young, naïve and slightly out of touch, there’s a relatable quality to it. She’s not making the perfect decisions. She makes mistakes and she’s conflicted with her choices. But that’s what the real human experience is like, isn’t it?
Where the story takes a shift is its tone. This novel embraces comedy, and pokes fun at itself and the over-the-top quality of luxury and high end fashion. Hariri-Kia also includes a very diverse cast of characters, which not only better reflects the media industry, but also New York City as a whole with its wide variety of different voices, identities and cultures.
Meryl Streep as the powerhouse of Miranda Priestly is sophisticated, the embodiment of high-end luxury who’s in touch with her clientele, and takes herself very seriously. That’s all. But Loretta James is struggling to stay relevant with the younger generation. She’s exaggerated, scheming and can sometimes come across as a bit of a caricature.
Admittedly, I wish there was more depth to her character other than her silly antics. She is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, another excellent move from Hariri-Kia to update and diversify this story. But readers don’t really get a glimpse into that side of this dynamic character. Which is something Hariri-Kia could have explored a little bit more to better understand this fascinating business mogul.
The Love Interest
The Devil Wears Prada movie adaptation is not known for its stellar love story. It’s about the frustration over Hathaway’s on- screen boyfriend who doesn’t understand the importance of answering every single phone call from Miranda Priestly.
Here’s where Hariri-Kia introduces Cal, one of the tech guys in the building. Instead of an epic love story where this man completely validates and empathizes with Noora’s job — he doesn’t. In fact, by the end of the story, Cal is pretty much revealed to be a jerk. And after Noora delivers her Oscar-winning monologue at the end, she takes her power back and leaves him alone at the dinner table.
While on one hand, it would be great to have a redemptive love story. A man who properly cherished Noora. But that’s simply a rare case when it comes to dating in your 20s. People casually date, balancing demanding jobs and little free time. It’s entertaining people just for the sake of a free dinner. It’s not only honest, it’s reflective of our cultural norm. But thank goodness Noora didn’t end up with him either way.
One of the most powerful moments in this book is the discussion around tokenism at the end of the novel. Noora is offered a job as a columnist writer for Vinyl. What appears to be a triumphant victory after all the hard work and mess of her assistant job, turns out not to be her happily ever after.
The new editor in chief is a little too eager to discover Noora’s cultural background and eventually exploit it to diversify their staff page. Noora never wears a hijab in the novel, and yet her new editor in chief asks her to wear one for her columnist photo. Noora is uncomfortable with this and decides to turn down this dream job. Because in this moment, she realizes within this office, it’s less about her written work and more about the way she looks.
This topic, as a whole, is an incredible addition to the narrative. Because it’s not just about explicit biases and outright wrongdoing. It’s about the subtleties around diversifying a company and the nuances to this topic. And while Noora could have easily taken this dream job and played the game of what her boss wanted. She decides to walk away, having the wherewithal that perhaps this isn’t where she will thrive.
Even with this updated narrative and diverse cast of characters, Noora’s ending is the same as Hathaway’s character. Inherently, what The Devil Wears Prada is about, is choices. The choice to know when it’s time to up and leave from a job, relationship, etc. And Noora undergoes a similar arc. Both these women make the bold choice to go. When on the outside it seems crazy, leaving behind what they thought was a dream job, security and financial stability. But that’s what makes these particular endings so powerful. It’s about making the bold choice to leave.