The devil might wear Prada, but editor-in-chief Loretta James wears a vintage kimono and black combat boots.
In Iman Hariri-Kia’s debut novel “A Hundred Other Girls,” the Meryl Streep classic meets a modern twist. Drawing upon her personal experience as a journalist and Iranian American, Hariri-Kia paints a vivid portrait of an ever-changing media landscape, exploring everything from the shift to online content to the pervasiveness of performative activism.
When aspiring writer Noora becomes Loretta’s assistant at Vinyl Magazine, she believes she is one step closer to realizing her dreams. She grew up idolizing the publication; it guided her through everything from periods to politics. However, as she faces Loretta’s absurd demands and finds herself caught in a rift between the print and digital teams, she learns that things at Vinyl aren’t as glossy as they seem.
Readers first meet Noora on the subway, rolling her eyes at a man — most likely in finance — as he manspreads across three seats. Noora is a people watcher, keenly aware of the world around her. Balancing poetic prose with popular culture references, her narration succeeds as both timeless and to the moment. Seen through Noora’s compelling and often comedic gaze, New York City comes to life on the page.
Creative, stylish and unapologetically Gemini, Noora is an easy protagonist to fall for. She possesses a deep desire to do what is best for people and the publication she cares about, even if she makes a few missteps along the way. Her relationship with her older sister, Leila, also provides a tender touch to the story, keeping Noora afloat even as she drowns in emotional labor. The two women may stumble in their own paths, but at the end of the day, they always have each other’s backs.
Leila lends heart to the novel, but the most intriguing character is Loretta: a case study in classic narcissism. One moment, she’s calling Noora “sweetie;” the next, she’s telling her she should have never been hired in the first place. Her demeanor changes at the flip of a switch, keeping Noora and the reader constantly on their toes.
As the battle between Loretta and Jade Aki, Vinyl’s digital editor, escalates, the narrative delves deeper into moral grayness. Hariri-Kia’s characters cannot be labeled as simply “good” or “bad” — they’re all just fighting to survive in a workplace divided against itself.
“A Hundred Other Girls” primarily focuses on Noora’s relationship with her job, but Hariri-Kia also pens a steamy romantic subplot. Calling upon her experience as a sex and relationships editor, she explores the nuances of modern dating and hookup culture through Noora’s situationship with Cal, the building’s IT guy. At times, their relationship feels a bit underdeveloped, jumping quickly from one point to the next. Overall, however, it fulfills an important purpose: Noora emerges as a sexually confident woman who isn’t afraid to advocate for herself or her needs.
As dream jobs become nightmares and confidants show their true colors, Noora never relinquishes her love for reading and storytelling. For her, magazines aren’t just silly, young-adult content — they’re important guides for life. “Reading showed me a way forward during a time when I felt stuck between worlds: girlhood and womanhood, Iran and America,” Noora says. “I’ve always vowed to one day become a writer myself and devote my life to my readers, because, well, I was the reader.”
Over the course of the novel, Noora begins to see the light within herself, taking ownership over her voice and her story. Even when it seems like there are a hundred other girls ready to take her place, she realizes none can do her job quite like her. A longtime advocate for having a healthy work-life balance, Hariri-Kia turns the power back to the individual, and she acknowledges the difficulty of prioritizing self-care in the modern workplace.
Illuminating, entertaining and overflowing with important life lessons, “A Hundred Other Girls” stuns as a sparkling debut. This may be Hariri-Kia’s first novel, but she, like Noora, possesses an unmistakable passion for storytelling, and her voice demands to be heard.
Lauren Harvey is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].