Book Review

Queenie

Queenie

  • Author: Candice Carty-Williams
  • Genre: Contemporary, Multicultural
  • Publication Date: March 19, 2019
  • Publisher: Orion Publishing

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Bridget Jones’s Diary meets Americanah in this disarmingly honest, boldly political, and truly inclusive novel that will speak to anyone who has gone looking for love and found something very different in its place.

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.

With “fresh and honest” (Jojo Moyes) prose, Queenie is a remarkably relatable exploration of what it means to be a modern woman searching for meaning in today’s world.

Let me start off by saying that I think that comparing this book to Bridget Jones’s Diary does this story a HUGE disservice. It’s been many years since I read BJD, but I recall it being an amusing story that lacked any actual depth. It was all about Bridget’s journey to finding fulfillment through a relationship. Queenie, on the other hand, is in a completely different class, in my opinion. Instead of finding happiness in a man, she is on a much deeper journey.

Queenie is a young woman who is dealing with a breakup, and struggling. She’s trying to navigate the dating scene, her career field, friendships, and managing her dysfunctional family, she also faces the challenges of being a Black woman in a racist and discriminatory society. Reading the book made me want to hug Queenie and shake some sense into her in equal parts. She makes horrible choices a lot of the time, but I never lost hope that she would learn from them and start making better choices.

She works for a newspaper, and has innovative ideas to incorporate into articles. A Black Lives Matter article would be timely and appropriate, but her boss keeps shutting her down and suggesting that she stick with trivial subject matters instead. She’s also forced to deal with a ton of microaggressions and blatantly racist statements and actions on basically a daily basis, which absolutely infuriated me. Perhaps the worst part was that these didn’t just come from strangers — they came from coworkers, her boyfriend, and even his family.

“Why would Tom never stand up for me? What would happen in ten years’ time when his uncle was saying that word, making racist jokes to our children? Would he defend them, or would they have to grow up being attacked by their own family? I wished there was some sort of interracial dating handbook to consult when these things happened.”

Unlike BJD, this isn’t a light-hearted book, overall. Parts of it are funny, but it’s a pretty heavy, emotional story. Queenie comes from a Jamaican family, and like many immigrant families, there’s a “suck-it-up” philosophy.

“All of my grandmother’s responses came with a Caribbean frame of reference that forces me to accept that my problems are trivial.”

So when she eventually has to come to terms with her own mental health struggles, she’s not only fighting against her own brain, she’s also fighting an uphill battle convincing her family that she needs help. I loved how the author touched on so many difficult topics, and didn’t shy away from them. She discusses recovery and how it isn’t an easy, linear process that just occurs — it involves hard work and often setbacks. She explores the nature of race and discrimination. She talks about Black Lives Matter and how it doesn’t take away from other lives, or say that other lives DON’T matter. This quote, in particular, was especially powerful:

“‘I’m not calling you racist, I’m saying that if the thinking is that someone should be killed for doing something wrong, that thinking is dangerous,’ I said.”

And she speaks about the lengths to which Black women go to conform to standards of beauty. I had no idea that this is what happens when women get their hair relaxed, and I’m legit horrified that women put themselves through this at all, let alone on a regular basis:

“Now I am no stranger to pain. I had my hair relaxed every two months from the age of eleven to twenty-three, and the feeling of your scalp burning away so that it weeps and scabs over the next day has set me up to deal with any injury you can throw at me.”

Finally, she visits the deep trauma involved in family relationships, and how happiness can be found. I think the part that I liked the best about this book is the message that happiness is an inside job, and having the perfect job or perfect relationship doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t happy with who you are.

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