59 pages 1 hour read

Jayne Allen

Black Girls Must Die Exhausted: A Novel

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Written by Jayne Allen in 2018, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted is a work of contemporary fiction that focuses on Tabitha (Tabby) Walker as she navigates racism and sexism in professional and personal spheres while simultaneously addressing multiple societal and internal family pressures relating to her fertility. The novel is the first in a trilogy and is followed by Black Girls Must Be Magic (2019) and Black Girls Must Have It All (2023). The series received high praise from notable literary publications such as Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly.

This guide refers to the 2021 e-book edition published by Harper Perennial.

Content Warning: Both the source material and this guide contain descriptions of racism, violence against people of color, attempted suicide, domestic violence, substance use disorder, infertility, and pregnancy loss.

Plot Summary

Tabitha (Tabby) Walker introduces the bulk of the novel’s central conflicts as she commutes to work in Los Angeles traffic. She drives directly from a doctor’s appointment, during which she is diagnosed with premature ovarian failure. Tabby desperately wants to become a mother, but she must get pregnant or freeze her eggs within the next few months to achieve this goal. Tabby considers her slow-moving relationship with Marc, her boyfriend of 18 months, and her stressful work environment as a television journalist. She is currently competing for a promotion, and the timing of her diagnosis could not be worse. Flustered and distracted, Tabby applies makeup while she drives, and she panics when law enforcement pulls her over for traffic violations; Tabby is all too familiar with high-profile news stories about people of color who are slain by police in similar circumstances. Officer Mallory lets Tabby go with a warning. He appeals for more trust in law enforcement, and Tabby does the same for people of color.

At work, Tabby’s competitor, Scott Stone, interrupts and dismisses her perspective about gentrification in Los Angeles at a company-wide meeting. Tabby believes that Scott intentionally tries to undercut her to gain favor with their boss, Chris Perkins. Tabby leans on her closest friends, Laila Joon and Alexis, for emotional support. She also confides in her grandmother, Granny Tab, and their close friend, Ms. Gretchen, seeking advice from trusted sources. Although all five women believe that Marc will make an excellent husband and father, he ends his relationship with Tabby after she discloses her diagnosis and pushes for a greater commitment from him.

In addition to the conflicts outlined in the book's first half, Tabby struggles in her relationships with her parents, Jeanie and Paul, who divorced during her childhood. Tabby’s mother encourages her to maintain a distanced relationship with Paul while pressuring Tabby to get pregnant as soon as possible. Tabby carries lingering feelings of abandonment that began when Paul married his current wife, Diane, with whom he has two daughters and one stepson. Although Tabby is close with her grandmother, Granny Tab maintains secrets about her experiences as a single white mother to a Black son while estranged from her family in West Virginia. Tabby knows next to nothing about her grandfather.

Both Alexis and Laila experience personal and professional crises. Alexis uncovers her husband’s infidelity shortly after he throws her a showy and expensive birthday party, while Laila falls in love with a married man and becomes pregnant with his child. Laila then loses her job, moves home with her parents, and experiences a miscarriage after her lover leaves her for her decision to go through with her pregnancy. Alexis and Laila keep their plights secret from each other, putting Tabby in a precarious position. Their three-way friendship eventually implodes. Shortly after, Laila attempts to die by suicide.

Meanwhile, Marc waffles on his decision to end his relationship with Tabby. Marc’s father was abusive and had an addiction, and Marc struggles to believe that he can be a loving father without having lived with a good example. Still, he admits that if he were to marry and have children, he would want Tabby by his side. Tabby strongly wants to have children and feels frustrated with Marc for wasting most of her thirties. Her anger grows with Marc’s continued indecisiveness. Tabby’s healthcare plan does not cover infertility treatments, and the procedures needed to freeze her eggs will exhaust her savings, which Tabby was hoping to use on a down payment for a house. Tabby is awarded the promotion at work, but when her boss subtly hints that he is giving her a senior position because of her race, Tabby considers resigning altogether. At Granny Tab’s urging, Tabby tries to reconnect with Paul, and in doing so, she grows closer to her half-sisters. The advice that Paul gives Tabby about work and relationships resonates with her.

Tabby receives an inside scoop about a young, Black college student who was unjustly shot by police. She investigates and reports on the story, which gains national attention. Simultaneously, Granny Tab dies peacefully in her sleep, devastating Tabby and Paul. While writing Granny Tab’s eulogy, Tabby reflects on her grandmother’s many hardships. She realizes that Granny Tab’s resilience and warm spirit define her life more authentically than her milestones and accomplishments. Laila, Alexis, Jeanie, Marc, and Lisa Sinclair (a supportive coworker) provide a united support network for Tabby at Granny Tab’s funeral.

The narrative skips forward one year. Laila, Alexis, and Tabby are working to elevate their friendship through therapy sessions and weekend getaways. Alexis remains separated from her husband, though they continue to attend couples counseling. Laila’s mental health improves drastically as she develops a blog. Lisa successfully advocates for infertility coverage for the employment healthcare plan, and because of her efforts, Tabby is able to receive infertility treatments while simultaneously purchasing her first home. Tabby and her reporting team win an Emmy for their work on the officer-involved shooting. The LAPD investigates its training protocol, intending to make improvements. Tabby’s relationship with Paul continues to improve, and traces of her sisters are scattered throughout her home. Tabby and Marc continue to see each other as friends. Tabby looks forward to announcing her pregnancy to her friends and family.

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