Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Candace Carty-Williams, a Jamaican Brit, set her novel, Queenie, in a South London neighborhood under the heels of gentrification. In chapter one, the book splits open like Queenie’s legs on the gynecologist table with a bitter breakup that leaves Queenie unexpectedly homeless. We are then strung along Queenie’s full-speed, downward spiral into depression, anxiety attacks & a heap of promiscuous sex. Will Queenie beat the odds during the days of Tinder App flash dating and recover mentally? Or will she succumb to her ills and be eaten up by wrong men just as her mother did?
Not many people enjoy being “preached to” unless it’s Sunday morning in the pew. It seems Carty-Williams understood this with the way she weaved Queenie’s multiple issues into the book without a sermon. Queenie dealt w/heartbreak, racial disparities, difficulties of interracial dating, mental health issues in black communities, sexual promiscuity, the effects of absentee parents, the benefits of strong support systems and the list goes on. Yet, I never felt I was in Sunday school. In fact, by placing more politically dividing issues like the BLM and feminist movements in the background made the references manageable to digest. I would go as far to say that her writing made the movements more relatable. Kudos to the author for bringing awareness to social issues through Queenie’s experiences and not a lecture.
The overarching issue of racism tinged the book from front to finish making the readers more racially aware. Queenie spoke of “Starbucks toting Caucasians” taking over her once Jamaican neighborhood. Or Fran who suggested she pout her lips for a dating app photo because Queenie was just lucky her “lips are just like that.” Tom’s uncle who used the N-Word just for kicks and giggles while everyone but Queenie considered it a joke. Before long, her interracial relationship went to ruins, Queenie was left broken and needing emotional support.
Queenie often tried to defeat color-blindness with lots of sex, unavailable, even married partners. When she realized that her sex-life was bandages slapped over 12-gauge shotgun wounds, she unraveled. Carty Williams struck a heartstring cord. It was the way I wanted to shake Queenie back to reality and feel sorry for her at the same time, that I realized how well the book delivered.
Queenie is not a book I would enjoy reading in print form but the audio book was absolutely astounding! Reading takes a great deal of imagining. It’s why I often prefer to read print form prior to watching a film adaptation. I get to imagine characters how I see fit. However, in Queenie, Candace Carty-Williams, wrote about several different ethnic groups that have distinct voices and dictions. Kyazike (pronounced Chesca) had Ugandan roots, Queenie’s family was Jamaican, Casandra & Tom were Caucasian, and I must have missed Darcy’s mention. The audiobook hit the mark here. One could close their eyes & hear the sultry Jamaican voices of Queenie’s grandparents, the south London swag in Queenie’s voice or the sing-sung, drawn out vowels of Casandra’s voice. Shvorne Marks captured the tones seamlessly in the audio version. I don’t believe reading the print form would have done me any justice with this book.
It was enjoyable to listen to Queenie be demanding when she had to, bitchy when she wanted to and a downright boss when the time presented. The way Carty-Williams allowed Queenie to show agency over her body in one instance but confusion about her decision in the next gave readers a dose of what reality truly looks like. I loved hearing it rather than reading it. Carty- Williams didn’t create the character in such a way to invoke fantasy while trying to grapple with real life issues.
I do believe Carty-Williams over explained some of her heavy hitting points though. For example, when Queenie went to see a therapist about her issues, we can conclude she's expected to talk. However, Carty Williams wrote, “I looked around the room. I was sitting with a woman I’d never met before but was expected to tell all my secrets to.” In my opinion, it was an unnecessary explanation of a therapy session – a perfect example of a missed opportunity to show and not tell. I don't believe the over-explaining was a distraction though. I believe leaving the reader to digest the picture on their would have mixed perfectly with Queenie's attitude in the novel.
Overall, Queenie worked tirelessly to find a way to battle her demons and decide if she will continue the good fight. I cared about the protagonist, her future, her love-life and her career. I wanted her to win and rooted for her all the way! I believe this book may have been written for a particular age group; like a young-female between the ages of 18-28. However, I think it would be enjoyable to any age group who struggles to find their place in a world full of unknowns.
On a 10 point scale, 10 being the highest, I’d rate this book a solid 9 with the one point taken away for over-explaining some points. I believe if a few readers missed the punch-line the author should have shouted, “Oh well!”