Author: Candice Carty-Williams
Describe the book in one word: Powerful
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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.
Before reading Queenie, I read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I won’t give anything away, but at one point, Sidney Stark tells Juliet Ashton the premise of her latest book is good but it is missing a focal point, it’s heart. There is no such issue in this book, Queenie Jenkins is unmistakably the heart and soul.
The book focuses on race, relationships, families, sex, love, heartbreak, abuse and career issues from the perspective of Queenie Jenkins, a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman trying to make her way through life in London. She’s paying overpriced rates for terrible apartments, trying to figure out her love life in the age of dating apps, dealing with casual racism on a regular basis and trying to work her way up in an industry that is run by middle-aged white men and women with no real clue about the issues facing today’s society, which is reflective of life today.
It’s so relatable and at the same time, shocking. I’m sitting here, writing this review as a white female. I wouldn’t usually write that but because race is such a key topic, I feel it’s important to say. I could either say it directly or talk around it awkwardly. I personally feel women are still up against so much guff financially (gender inequality), in the workplace and society in general. Trying to unravel a lifetime of conditioning so you can be yourself is a huge task (for example, I’m thinking Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana).
I can’t even begin to imagine (and I’m not about to pretend I can) how hard it is for women in society who are STILL (still, in the year 2020) fighting to be treated equally because of the colour of their skin on top of all the other issues facing women. It’s not right. I hugely admire the way Queenie tackles so many facets of racism in society. Ultimately, whether it’s casual racism or racism because someone is old (for arguments sake, an older relative), it’s not okay.
I also massively admire the way Carty-Williams tackles sex and relationships. She masterfully and tastefully describes the ways in which Queenie is chased by men for sex, only to be disposed of when they’re done. And the way Queenie seeks this behaviour out as a form of self-destruction (subconsciously).
Sex should be consensual. No if’s or but’s. So, what happens if it’s not? If one person doesn’t like what is happening? Or they change their mind? The book reinforces the notion that women are not objects and it’s okay to say ‘no’ and it’s okay to change your mind. Reading this is hugely empowering. As is the way Carty-Williams masterfully raises the question of WHY someone might be behaving self-destructively. Instead of judgement or shame there is exploration and a desire to change.
Another key topic discussed is mental health and it’s discussed beautifully. It’s not just described as something that comes and goes, it’s something that can be triggered, that has to be overcome and something that people around you can come to understand in time but it’s not easy and it’s not a given. The way the issue is tackled could help readers who have struggled or are struggling.
They say people pick the love they think they deserve. They say that people pick what they know because they know how to deal with it. Abuse is a key theme. Whether it’s Queenie abusing her body, her body being abused, or the abuse she grew up with during childhood, it’s key throughout the book. I like the way the topic is explored in a natural way and the feelings that go with it aren’t overcome instantly, but gradually. I feel this adds depth to the book and could give readers hope if they’re struggling themselves.
Although there are dark facets, there is also hope. There is love – from friends, family and gradually, self. There are opportunities for growth and even though times are hard, hard times lead to strength and resilience. The bonds Queenie has with her family and friends are at the heart of the story. They add laughter and give Queenie a certain kind of magic.
One of the things that repeatedly came up, that truly shocked me, was that people (sometimes strangers) would try to touch Queenie’s hair. I’m know that’s a real-life issue, but I find it hard to imagine why anyone would think it’s okay to behave that way. It’s so intrusive and inappropriate.
Final thoughts: one day I hope to be able to write to the same standard as Candice Carty-Williams. I hope to be able to write my own Queenie.