Queenie: Book Review
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
I stumbled across Queenie at work about a month ago, published by Hachette in 2019 and written by Candice Carty-Williams it was the cover that gravitated me to the book, featuring the hair of a black woman, braids tied into a bun on her head, with massive gold foil hooped earrings.
The story follows Queenie Jenkins, a Caribbean woman living in London, she's currently on a 'break' *cue Ross and Rachel from Friends* with her boyfriend Tom while attempting to balance work, her friends and her intense Caribbean family.
The book touches on several issues, with sex, race and mental health being at the forefront. In the first couple of pages, we're given a flashback where Tom's grandmother, comments on what beautiful children they would have. 'Your lovely soft brown skin, Queenie, but lighter. Like a lovely milky coffee. Not too dark! And Tom's green eyes. Your big hair Queenie... but Tom's nice straight nose'. Around the table no one bats an eyelid, justifying it by saying that it's not that she's racist, she's just old, things were different back then. But the black reader can understand these slight microaggressions, these words veiled as compliments but leaning towards lighter being better. It's rare for me to read a book and completely relate to a scene but with this novel I find myself nodding along on many occasions, either relating a scenario to me or a black friend that I know this has happened to.
“You said that I could be any type of black girl that I wanted to be.”
I think in the black community we know that talking about mental health to your family can be difficult. If you come from a religious family, they may think they can pray the depression or anxiety away. Or they simply say, 'black people don't get depressed...that's a white people thing'. When Queenie is spiralling, no longer caring about eating or drinking, failing at work and self-imploding her best friend advises that she speaks to someone. Through unfortunate circumstance, her grandmother sees her NHS referral later, and the first words out of her mouth are 'You trying to shame all ah we?'. Queenie feels the need to apologise for even considering therapy, her grandma compares their struggles saying that if she didn't need therapy then why does she? Carty-Williams putting this conversation in the text is important, without giving to much away, the way her family begins to understand her struggles, albeit begrudgingly, it truly is endearing to see. Instead of it being a quick easy fix, it shows the struggle of getting yourself and your family to accept that you do need help.
The fetishisation of black women is another key point of the novel, despite all of Queenie's one night stands, there was one that stuck with me the most, with a man from her neighbourhood named Adi. They're in the front of his car, in a secluded area, he asks her to turn around so he can see her bare arse and when she questions why his reply was 'Cause I love black girls' bums innit'. Low and behold, the stereotype that only black girls have big bums. Instead of treating her like an actual human being he treats her as something off a bucket list. So many times I've been approached by guys who have 'never been with a black girl before' as if we're some allusive mythical creature, and when you catch us it's as though you're a poacher managing to catch and kill a lion. The guys in this book are like that, treating her as a plaything instead of anything serious and I'm glad that Carty-Williams inserted these experiences into the book while reminding us that though this is common, it's not something we should be dealing with.
However, the downside to this novel is, in fact, Queenie, at first, she is a horrible character, self -centred and self-obsessed. She ignores the troubles that her friends go through, (like her friends Darcy's emotionally abusive relationship) and somehow always turning the conversation towards herself or her 'sexcapades'. Eventually, towards the end, she begins to understand where she has been going wrong, what she needs to change and how she should be treating people, and although it's not instant, it's refreshing to see someone begin to work towards something, instead of completely turning their personality around. But I think that was the whole point, she's meant to be a complex and real character, who you feel frustrated with and who tests your patience like people do in real life.
All in all, I recommend this book, particularly to black girls like me who are always searching for a book and a character that you can relate to your own life. We must continue to give black authors a platform and a chance for their voices to be heard.