As you are probably aware, June is Caribbean Heritage Month so I’ve been taking part in the #ReadCaribbean reading challenge. My first read this month was Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. Having been shortlisted or longlisted for basically every prize going, I knew Queenie would be good and I can safely say it lived up to the hype.
The book is centred around the life of Queenie Jenkins, a 25 year old journalist and third generation Jamaican Brit, after a breakup with her long-term white boyfriend, Tom. The book sees her navigate through various dating/sexual encounters, exploring the fetishisation and gaslighting many black women face in the modern-day world of dating. Queenie touches on issues such as mental health, race, class, and consent.
Queenie is quite clearly the star of this show and I think the reason I connected with this book was because of how well written she is. I’m in my early twenties and often find that when I read coming-of-age stories they are centred around teenagers who live independently and miraculously manage to find the love of their lives at the tender age of 17. Queenie is 25 and while she has a pretty steady full-time job as a journalist, she is nowhere near having her life together - which I appreciate. While the way she acts of impulse can be frustrating, I think her decisions are realistic. I could see aspects of my friends in Queenie’s personality and despite her self-destructiveness, I genuinely cared about what happened to her. Every so often the narrative breaks out into text speech to represent the conversations Queenie has with her friends on their group chat. This I felt was one of the strongest elements in this book as it drives the plot forward and allows the reader to get to know Queenie and her friends. I could definitely see my friends in those conversations and it gave the book a true millennial flare that did resonate with me.
Queenie directly addresses themes of black identity, including the over-sexualisation of Black women’s bodies, mental health and how it is viewed within the Caribbean community. While this text is marketed as a comedy, I thought it was anything but. Queenie’s casual sexual encounters following her break up with Tom and her severe anxiety are explained by her history of child abuse at the hands of her step-father. It was at times hard to read and definitely was not funny. Some readers may even find this aspect of the book to be triggering so please be aware of this if you decide to read Queenie. While it touched on Queenie’s history, I wanted to know more about why Queenie felt the way she did about Black men and her complex relationship with food. I really wished the author gave Queenie a fuller character arc because I do think she deserved some resolve in this book.
If you’ve read any of my reviews you will know that I love a book set in London. While South London isn’t really my turf, I appreciated Queenie’s descriptions of Brixton and how she recognises the gentrification of where she grew up. She notes how Jamaican-owned shops have been turned into burger restaurants and how in an area where Black working-class people have always been the majority, they are now being pushed out by new developments and overpriced housing.
No, this isn’t another Bridget Jones’ Diary and I’m glad it wasn’t - we already have enough of those. Queenie is bold and complex but she is also deeply troubled and has a real history. It is not a light-hearted Rom-Com by any means and at times I felt the themes were too serious to be comic. I don’t think this book will be for everyone but I personally did enjoy it and am looking forward to watching the new Channel 4 series when it comes out. 8/10.