This book had me. Triggered. It was a revelation, not only to myself, but to/about our community. It touches on so many issues and subjects within the Black community, it’s eye-opening, it’s frustrating and it’s necessary. I was initially drawn to the book, because of its title and the cover photo, but when reading what it’s about- I quickly snatched it up. Read on to see our thoughts on Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie.
The book follows approximately a year in the life of Queenie Jenkins as she faces major changes, from the break up with her boyfriend of 3 years, finding a new place to live, struggling to maintain her job and dealing with past traumas. After years of suppressing it all, it comes to a head when things begin to unravel. She is forced to reassess her life and the toxic behaviours and choices that has lead her to this point. Current, relevant and eye-opening, this book is about growth and family, thrown in with a handful of mmhmm and “preach” moments.
Break it Down:
This book touches on so many things within the Black community, the fact that we tend to ignore any form of mental illness or signs of weakness, the fact that despite being the same colour, within our own community, we still preferentiate lighter skin colours. The fact that the men, particularly those of the lighter complexion have a much easier time of life with less or having to prove themselves less, it’s the way it is. So many topics were breached, but in a really intelligent way to get the reader thinking or even having intelligent dialogue between characters. I think Candice Carty-Williams did a really good job of that.
I can so so so relate to Queenie’s character and although I have read a lot of books, I don’t think I have ever connected to a character so quickly (page 30), reading lines from the book and checking over my shoulder wondering if Candice Carty-Williams actually knows me…Queenie is so complicated and damaged and guarded like me it’s unreal. I just love the fact that she’s all of these things, it makes her so much more relatable and real, especially to me. Her aversion to letting people in, to being withdrawn and even to the point where she can turn just about anything into an argument, is all me, I saw her pain and I understood her. Her frustrations of being a Black women in the world, the labels and negative adjectives that come along with it, is something I have struggled with for years and we have even blogged about it in the past.
As Queenie’s life began to take on a different path; Tom breaking up with her, having to find a place to live, struggling to cope at work and ultimately dealing with her anxiety attacks, I found myself getting frustrated with her character. Like, OMG can she stop self sabotaging already? She began to grate on my nerves, making resolutions and then so quickly messing them all up, it was the most frustrating thing! I felt like she had so much potential and wasn’t seeing it within herself, I was also fully willing her to start a blog or at least do something on her own regarding the types of articles she would like to author. Especially as her work wasn’t allowing her to do that and didn’t seem interested in that content. When it was revealed that Guy was the same Guy who was actually Cassandra’s new boyfriend, I genuinely didn’t see that coming and the way it was all revealed really shocked me. I know that Cassandra was upset, but the level of aggression and anger that came out of her mouth towards Queenie was so visceral and you felt like it was her true feelings, but she had repressed it because she was Queenie’s “friend”, but it was obvious that Guy was sleeping with Queenie well before Cassandra got involved with him. This really saddened me, but it has also been an experience of mine, typically women turn on each other when it’s clear that it’s the male who should take the blame. I’ll also admit that it left a bad taste in my mouth when Cassandra reared her ugly head at Queenie’s birthday meal after Guy cheated on her with someone else, I don’t know that I would have been as nice and understanding as Queenie.
I can’t wake up and not be a Black woman, Janet, I can’t wake up and not be a Black woman Janet, I can’t walk into a room and not be a Black woman, Janet. On the bus, on the tube, at work, in the canteen….Queenie- Candice Carty- Williams
I loved, loved, loved all of the West Indian references; the constant need to have the house tidy, the washing of the chicken, the insistent need to be “busy doing something” and the inability to accept that mental ill health exists. It had me chuckling to myself, because this was essentially some of my childhood and my mother is a watered down version of this. LOL. Queenie’s strained relationship with her mother was impactful, because she blamed her mother, but as she began to try to see it from a different perspective or even seeing her mother as human, she began to fully understand how hard it was for her and the choices she made was in order to protect Queenie from her abusive relationship. But she also realized that she pushed people away when it came to loving physical contact, but then sought out unhealthy sexual relationships with men she knew couldn’t give her the comfort and stability she really wanted. Complex much? Yes, and I have been guilty of doing the same thing. She was happy to give her body to men she knew wouldn’t offer her anything more and was quite willing to have Guy essentially abuse her for his pleasure. This really upset me, because I could understand her need to have unhealthy physical contact, but I couldn’t understand why she would be willing to have someone use he body as a sexual punching bag.
This isn’t a hard hitting, political book, it’s written to be light, Black Bridget Jones-esque with a little bit more edge. From my perspective, I don’t have much I didn’t like, I thought it made it interesting to have Queenie irritate the reader, because that makes her more human. My only negative from the author’s perspective is that I felt like she could have been a bit more hard hitting when she was discussing issues of race, sexism and the awkward balance of being a Black female. Personally, I think the author could have gone further, she made Queenie have long rants about topics, but it didn’t offer anything new to the subject and though I accepted it- I felt it could have been more impactful. She was swinging lots of hits, but I’m not sure she scored a home run in that regards or maybe I wanted her to be more brutal.
Would I recommend the book?:
Without a doubt, it’s a great book to read, it asks questions and raises issues that are important, but are also a real example of what it is like to exist as a Black woman. It’s also interesting to hear about it from a British perspective, as this is something we normally associate with the US. From Queenie’s references about people not touching her hair, to the assumptions others make about her when she is in fact the victim, simply because she was more loud and deemed more aggressive. Such a vital book.
The RnR Rating:
4 out of 5