I may be a little late to the party with my book review (as per) but the hardback I put on my birthday list this year was just too good to be missed off my blog. This is where I write about really important things, after all. And the topics covered in this book are, in all seriousness, really important.
Set in Brixton, Queenie is a novel about race, mental health, sex, relationships and growing up. It’s about trying to navigate your early twenties in a world of group chats, dating apps and grotty South London flat-shares. It’s about making the same mistakes over and over again and all your mistakes catching up with you in one massive slap in the face. It’s about learning to listen when everything inside of you is telling you that you’re not okay. It’s about being okay with not being okay. And it’s about much, much more.
Queenie’s life is gradually unravelling. Her relationship with her boyfriend Tom is deteriorating rapidly and her assistant job at a newspaper is becoming more and more unstable as she struggles to leave her personal life at home. She wants to be writing about #BlackLivesMatter, but all she seems to leave her pitch meetings with are pieces about the top ten dresses on the red carpet. She at least has her girl gang of slightly haphazard, mismatched friends, who have been herded into a group chat together called ‘The Corgis’, with the sole purpose of sorting out Queenie’s mess. The first time she visits the sexual health clinic, her friend comes along for hand-holding and moral support. Soon, however, she is visiting alone, with only the concerned faces of the staff for company. But when one of the nurses files a referral for therapy, Queenie is mortified, then embarrassed, then curious. To her Jamaican grandparents, who she is now living with in an all time low, therapy is simply not an option.
Queenie is faced with stigma and judgement from all angles, but Carty-Williams brings an incredible amount of dark humour to her life. Whether it’s her spiky friend Kyazike telling a ridiculous but entirely believable story about a disaster date, or a text from Queenie to her friends describing her date as a ‘giant cherub’, there’s something amusing on almost every page. The book is a real roller-coaster of emotions, with the pain of rejection, regret and failure hitting the reader just as hard as they hit Queenie.
I’ve heard this book described as ‘chick lit’, mainly because of its pink (or other colourful) front cover and the fact that it’s written by a woman about a woman. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this so-called chick lit (although I happen to dislike the term), but I just don’t think it really does Queenie justice. This isn’t just a bit of light relief that you will pick up and put down and forget about in a few days. The stories and the characters will stay with you for a while. You’ll probably find yourself thinking about them as you get out your phone to check your group chat, plug yourself into your favourite podcast or open up a dating app and send a reckless, two-glasses-of-wine-down message. The prose and dialogue are so realistic, that if you read too late into the night you might wake up confused about whether it’s you who just received a message from a random guy telling you exactly what he’d like to do to your ‘black girl curves’, or Queenie.
This book has also been described as being a black Bridget Jones, but I’m not sure how I feel about that either. It’s not a black version of anything, it’s Queenie in its own right. Why does it have to be compared to something ‘white’ to make it sound successful? Anyway, I could go on, but you get the picture. It’s an amazing book, and I urge everyone, black or white, male or female, to read it.