Thursday, May 9, 2019

Book Review | Queenie

Meet Queenie Jenkins, the heroine and protagonist of the self-titled, Queenie. She's black British, twenty-something, and hails from South London. She's from a Jamaican family, works as an underpaid journalist, and most pivotal to the story, has just been dumped by her posh white boyfriend, Tom.

If there was ever a protagonist, more flawed, and more f****d up, yet more relatable, she would be Queenie.

The story opens up in the hospital. Queenie is in the stirrups whilst the doctor performs 'the check'. As my eyes first glided over the text, my first thought was 'how comical''.  After all, it's something most women can relate to. When she describes trying "to divert my attention from this manipulation of my insides", [sic] I was thinking 'yup, yup' but reading on, I discovered how much trauma is laced into the scene which culminates in Queenie finding out she's had a miscarriage. To top it off, the one person who she should turn to for comfort, her (ex)boyfriend Tom, won't speak to her.

This opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the book: quite somber themes treated with humour - sometimes more somber, sometimes more humourous. This is done so well throughout that as a reader, there were moments which saw me giggling to myself and others where I felt like shedding a tear - all of that and the story still flowed so well.

For the rest of  Queenie, we see the main protagonist struggle to heal from her heartbreak and free herself from the burden of her abandonment and identity issues,  whilst using a string of unhealthy sexual encounters as relief. The catalyst for all her problems is seemingly her bad breakup, but as I peeled back the layers of the text, I realised that there was something more insidious lurking - that witnessing her mother's abuse at the hands of her lover planted those seeds years prior.

Corgis, mental health and  casual racism
Queenie is a complex novel, made up of a myriad of themes intricately laced together: friendship, abuse, mental health, sex, self-love and acceptance, gentrification, identity and so much more!

There are many elements which enrich the story further.  Take for example her three friends who she affectionately calls 'the corgis'': Darcy who's white and can be seen as an ally, Cassandra, who's white Jewish, patronising a.f. and ends up betraying Queenie; and Kyazike, a Black Brit of Ugandan descent who is hilarious and just has Queenie's back no matter the situation. All have a role to play in Queenie's life and exemplify the different types of women a black woman might encounter (or even need) on her journey to understanding herself. 

“Being brave isn't the same as being okay". - Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams 

You might ask yourself what gentrification has to do with identity or mental health. If you've grown up in London, and now struggle to find the places and people in your local area which made up your childhood, you wouldn't need to be told twice. There is a scene where Queenie runs to find comfort in a Jamaican bakery she used to frequent with her grandmother as a child, only to find it has been turned into a hipster café.

This and much more (the sex, the racism, the rejection) covertly push her further into her cycle of bad habits until she has a mental breakdown.

The beauty of the story is that her journey to healing is no straight line. There are mistakes along the way, there is depression, and panic attacks, and trips to sexual health clinics and the therapist. 

But by the end of it, does Queenie get her redemption? I don't know. You'll have to read the book!

I definitely recommend Queenie. Especially to women and particularly black women. Candice Carty Williams, the author manages to somehow brush on so many of the issues black people face in the UK as if to say 'hey, you're not alone'. If anything it's a great beginning point for a lot of conversations that are yet to be had.

Have you read Queenie yet? Have I persuaded you to?



  1. No I have not read this book and yes, you have persuaded me with you big brofo. Great review Madeline. Every time I come here I feel bad because I'm not reading that much. Ha!!

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