Queenie was not a book I would have picked up if it wasn’t for Bookstagram, and as I started to read it, it felt very much like a reboot of Bridget Jones but for a millennial audience, however the deeper I got into the story, I realised that it was more than a young woman’s catastrophic experiences of relationships and dating, it is a polemic of being a black woman in the 21st Century navigating the complexities of identity, the rituals of family and the expectations of society.
Queenie is immediately relatable and intrinsically you begin to root for her. She’s witty, smart, and on a path of self-destruction after being asked by her long-term boyfriend, Tom, to go on a break after months of arguments. As expected, in the early stages of the “Break” Queenie makes some questionable choices and recruits her girlfriends – The Corgies – to help her through this difficult transition. She joins a dating website, meets an assortment of awful men and with great humour and very little else she stumbles through the next few weeks of her life.
Queenie, however, is much more than a satirical look at dating in the modern age. We see the dark side of cultures that fetishize the black body, the trauma of abuse on a young girl and the subsequent effects on future relationships and we see the subtle racism of lowered expectations chiselling away at a young woman until she can’t take anymore. We also experience overt and casual racism, one of my favourite parts in the book is actually when Darcy, Queenies otherwise completely loyal best friend, makes an offhand racist remark, and as a reader, you really feel her frustration and anger with having to battle the ignorance / luxury of being a white woman who never has or will have to deal with racism.
I must admit that I love to read books set in the city that is my home. I love the references to familiar places, to bus routes and to nights out. The social commentary on gentrification and the very real impact this has on many immigrant communities is yet another important discussion weaved into the plot of this book: its such clever storytelling. I also really enjoyed the diverse range of characters. Like most Londoners I know, Queenie has friends from all over the world. My favourite was Kyazike, the first friend she made at school who “blew my tiny westernised mind when she told me that her name was pronounced ‘chess-keh’”
Although Queenie deals with a lot of difficult issues, Candice Carty-Williams writes with an effortless ease. This book is entirely engaging. Its also full of hope and love. Friendships, family and professional help form the backbone of support that provides a beacon of light at an otherwise difficult time. I loved the shoutout to the NHS and the subtle references to poverty and class politics and how access to certain services is also a privilege of race. Candice manages to convey so much in this novel without it being heavy handed. Whilst I was reading it I was fully absorbed in Queenies life, the fictional narrative but even after I had finished it, I was struck by some of what the book deals with, my own privilege of not having to traverse that landscape. To constantly need to justify your existence in spaces that deliberately don’t accommodate you and how truly unequal we still are as a society.