I decided a while ago not to write book reviews on this blog anymore.
I’m breaking that rule to talk about Queenie.
How did this book come into my life?
- Entertainment Weekly raved about it
- Emer wrote a gushing review for it
- I saw it for 20% off at Target and decided I needed it
Cut to me reading 84% of this novel in one sitting.
I have thoughts.
by Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie Jenkins is a twenty-five-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.
As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her.
With “fresh and honest” (Jojo Moyes) prose, Queenie is a remarkably relatable exploration of what it means to be a modern woman searching for meaning in today’s world
(CW: racism, misogynoir, sexual violence, miscarriage, sexual harassment, anxiety, eating disorders, domestic abuse)
(Spoilers and detailed discussion of sexual violence ahead)
I thought this would be a light read.
So many of Queenie’s experiences were painful to read.
By the end, I was in awe of Queenie’s stamina.
Carty-Williams very effectively puts the reader in Queenie’s shoes. You become so familiar with Queenie’s inner life that even her more questionable actions start to make sense.
Watching a character actually make mistakes that weren’t justified by the narrative was very refreshing to see.
Through Carty-William’s excellent prose, the reader witnesses the near-constant sexualization of Queenie’s body, the racist jokes made by her boyfriend’s family members, and the continual microaggressions Queenie faces on almost every page.
The onslaught is exhausting.
At the novel’s midpoint, Queenie and her friend Kyazike march in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in London. Queenie finally feels free to express her rage and show support for the Black community.
In the very next scene, her proposal for an article on the movement is shot down by her white coworkers.
Defeated, Queenie tries and fails to remind herself how empowered she felt at the march.
The contrast between the two scenes is sobering.
Thank God for Kyazike (pronounced Chess-keh), Queenie’s best friend and one of the novel’s bright spots.
Queenie and Kyazike’s relationship was my favorite part of the book.
The two women, who’ve known each other forever, only feel safe around each other. Queenie takes out Kyazike’s weave while her friend shares dating horror stories; Kyazike stands up for Queenie when white strangers accuse her of causing problems.
I would love to read about friendships like these more often.
Despite all the positives this book has, it makes one major misstep.
(CW: sexual assault)
(Things are about to get graphic.)
A man Queenie meets at a party penetrates Queenie digitally and anally without her consent.
A trip to the sexual health clinic reveals lacerations on Queenie’s thighs, vaginal and anal tearing, and internal bruising.
I kept waiting for the narrative to call Queenie’s experience a rape.
For reasons I don’t understand, the book didn’t go there.
Instead, Queenie reframes the encounter as “rough sex” (a common coping mechanism.)
The man in question is later revealed to be both the boyfriend of Queenie’s friend and a general asshole and cad, AS IF WE COULDN’T TELL FROM HIS BRUTAL TREATMENT OF QUEENIE.
He’s called out for cheating but not for INJURING QUEENIE.
This man proved dangerous and the book let him off the hook for it.
The book did, however, explore domestic abuse in Queenie’s backstory; in flashbacks, we learn how an abusive boyfriend damaged Queenie’s relationship with her mom. Queenie eventually realizes that her mom isn’t weak and the two later reconcile.
The book also exacts justice on an office sexual harasser AND shuts down a racist Queenie meets on a dating app.
I’m not sure these choices make up for the lack of commentary on sexual violence; I’m glad for them all the same.
(Graphic content ends here)
Overall, this is a book I would recommend.
Publishing needs more books like this.
Read Queenie with compassion.
4 thoughts on “I Need to Talk About “Queenie””
I have not read this book, though it is on my list that I will get to – one day. Something I have noticed often is that if a character doesn’t call an encounter rape than neither does the author. So I am not sure if it is an author avoiding that truth or if it’s simply because the character can’t doesn’t see it as rape that it’s never called that. There was a scene in Ride Rough (by Laura Kaye) where the character is raped by her boyfriend, who was abusive in all other ways too. I was waiting for the character to accept that along with everything else he had raped her. Instead she just felt uncomfortable with the encounter and couldn’t figure out why. She never told anyone about that particular encounter so no one could tell her that’s what it was. Maybe that’s why Queenie never called it rape?
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You make a good point. I’m used to authors or characters downplaying rape, so I think I assumed that’s what this book was doing, whereas the author might have intended the depiction to be purposefully dispassionate.
You can understand why I gushed now. There’s so much good in it. So much about the narrative of female sexuality, self respect and the over sexualisation of black women. I liked that it was so blunt and left me as a reader trying to figure out what was what.
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It was VERY straight-forward. I loved that about it! And Queenie was a fantastic character!
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