Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Genres: Fiction, Chick-Lit?
Maturity Level: 5
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Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.
As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her.
HO-LY SMOKES, what a book!
The writing, especially the characterization, is just incredible. Queenie is so readable that I finished it in nearly one day, but still has so much depth. Everyone feels like a real person you could actually meet, each with their own personality and complexity. Even the dialog was written in such a way that you could tell who was who because everyone had such a unique voice. And Carty-Williams is so successful at making you feel what Queenie feels.
I read a lot of reviews about how Queenie is not a “likable” character, which I think is complete rubbish. What makes her so interesting is that she’s actually super relatable, but she makes terrible choices that you might not be able to relate to. In terms of her personality, what’s important to her, and her feelings, she’s just … a person. She loves her family, she’s insecure about her appearance, she wants to make a difference in the world but also fall in love and get married. But she spirals into self-destructive choices that were … difficult to read about. She’s not unlikable, but she is often frustrating.
Because ultimately this book is about mental health. At the beginning of the novel Queenie has a traumatic revelation that triggers some pretty extreme anxiety (on top of her already recognized PTSD). Her anxiety and low self-esteem lead her to make decisions that she knows are bad for her, but she just can’t stop herself. Things get worse and worse. It’s like watching a train wreck. It’s so horrible, but you just can’t look away.
Carty-Williams also tackles Me-Too and Black Lives Matter. Geez, the men in this book SUCKED. Everyone sees Queenie as an object, not as a person, which of course reinforces her low self-esteem. And sheesh, no never means no! They take advantage of her vulnerability and her need to feel connected. Queenie is also subject to some pretty shitty racism, mostly from these same men, but from white women too. Is it really a thing that people touch a complete stranger’s hair? What is wrong with people?! And then they treat her like she’s too aggressive when she tells them to back off. If you want to understand what intersectional feminism is all about, I think I learned more from Queenie than any of the non-fiction titles I’ve read.
But with all of these themes, the book still feels character- and plot-driven. It never felt like I was being lectured. I flew through it, and I became so attached to Queenie.
The main big obstacle in this book for me was the use of accents and slang that I wasn’t familiar with. Queenie lives in London and her family are Jamaican. While I can recognize a Jamaican accent pretty easily, I can’t audiate it, which mean the Jamaican accents were very slow for me to decode. The London accent I am wholly unfamiliar with, and their slang completely foreign to me, which pulled me out of the reading experience a lot. It’s nothing wrong with the book, but this is a situation where, for me, an audiobook may have been a better choice. When I re-visit this book, I’d like to listen while I read to help me overcome the accent-barrier.
The ONLY reason this book wasn’t a five-star read for me is my current personal life. I’m super stressed, and reading about Queenie’s anxiety triggered mine. It kept me up at night, and even writing this review I’m feeling anxious. I would love to re-read this book sometime in the future when things are a little calmer for me.
If you haven’t read Queenie yet, what are you waiting for? It completely lives up to the hype and delivers a tough look at being a young Black woman with mental illness in 2020.