I just finished reading Queenie by the brilliant Candice Carty-Williams and it was such a well told story with so much candor and very relatable. I generally don’t do book reviews and I won’t say this is one but for a 25 year old black girl going on 26, this book hit somewhat close to home which made me uncomfortable at certain moments because of the striking similarities. In that sense, I appreciate the story being up to the times and expressing our current realities as frankly yet tenderly as possible so I thought why not put down my thoughts about it?
Granted, I started off annoyed at Queenie’s pining and whining for Tom after the break which was clearly a break up. I was particularly annoyed at her friends who seemingly encouraged her and more or less prodded her on to using promiscuity as a release (definitely no judgement). Okay, that may be somewhat unfair because they did warn her, albeit rather gently and still let her have her way because well she is an adult and ultimately responsible for herself.
But my goodness, what friends! Darcy is an absolute ace and Kyazike is that one friend you absolutely need to have in your corner as a Black Woman. As in yeah you have friends but the one who understands your lived experiences as well in this society where just existing feels so taxing. That one you can share certain things with because although you are both Blacks speaking English, your roots are different yet speak in a language only you both understand for comfort. Cassandra…well, the least said the better. I will say though, Queenie was way too generous in getting her a seat at the table after the shit she pulled but I guess that’s what they call growth or whatever (yes, I know I get emotionally invested in books, please allow). I’ll know once I’m able to afford a Janet but until then, I maintain she was a rather appalling friend and yes, I can rationalise her decision to follow Guy at that moment but really sis, really? Which takes me back to my point about Kyazike being the friend we need because my good sis sniffed out Cass from the very start smh.
Anyway, life out here where you stick out every time as an other can get exhausting no matter how much you try to, or do actually assimilate, friends are absolutely necessary in maintaining your sanity. Darcy and Kyazike pulled through for her so beautifully. I legit let out a, “finally!” when Darcy reminded her how rather basic Tom was and didn’t do much for her. Girl, you could have said that before the self-destruction but okay cool.
Yeah, Tom did not need to be harrassed by Queenie like that after the break but also wow Tom, you let your family be racist to your partner and then make her out to be problematic for reacting? Trash. Their relationship in general was unhealthy and yet I understand her latching on when she had to let go. It be like that sometimes.
That said though, I’m upset Queenie actually put up with his racist uncle for that long. See yeah, smiles and home visits won’t ever make these people defend your humanity when needed. They’ll kiki and love up on you yet expect you to be okay with being dehumanised because decorum and propriety. As someone who has never been in an interracial relationship, I cannot speak much on their dynamics but one thing I do know for sure is it could never be me. Fuck that shit, whatever your race may be as a partner, just don’t let them get disrespected by your family and expect them to be okay with it in the name of love.
Actually yeah, all the men in this book sucked. Every single one of them. And it was not even surprising because have you met men? Lol. Ted was a first class arsehole who had the impudence of a dying cockroach up until the very end of his character’s presence in the book. Adi, another unimaginative cowardly one. Guy too was just one posh bastard. Simon wasn’t much relevant to the story but I really hoped Darcy would leave his behind for another who won’t drag her to early retirement.
Now, there was a point I tweeted this book had me conflicted and that was when I came to terms with Queenie’s past and what that meant for her mental health and the way she was. I do think the book spent too much time on the break up and self-pitying, which is fair, Lord knows breakups suck. A large part of the book focused on the whole eye-rolling bits and gave us background context and proper character development about forty percent towards the end.
But what actually had me conflicted was how much of myself I saw in Queenie which I’m sure is the same for a lot of Black Women in ways we tend not to talk about often. Dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, check. Abuse by men in our lives both formative years and personal relationships later on, check. Mental health struggles we suppress because we have an image to uphold, check. Family members being dismissive of said mental health issues because what is that to Black people, check. Perhaps it wasn’t conflict but rather a realisation of me being unkind after piecing all that together post my get-over-the-break-up-already-and-move-on moment of irritation.
We don’t always need to be aware of the backstory of others to determine whether or not we are going to be empathetic. I was mostly worried about her losing her job which was what had me irritated but then I reminded myself I had brushed off the miscarriage she had learned of at the beginning. The shock of her finding out and then going straight to officially losing her man. Of course that was likely to make her breakdown in some way and not everyone deals with pain the same. You see, the expectation of women, Black women, is to shoulder everything with a brave face and smile. Never show your pain nor acknowledge, always make others comfortable at your own expense, compromise on your autonomy and all the while carrying on with your usual routines like all is well and dandy. I criticised Queenie and her grandmother all for internalising that only to check myself with that too lol. Unlearning on a daily, innit?
Truth is though, all is never well and dandy. I appreciate Queenie’s family coming around to the idea of therapy and being encouraging eventually. I wish that was the reality of us all.
This book is a Black as hell one. I love the vulnerability it expressed, the beauty and love of friendships, the strength family support brings. The characters were endearing, with the obvious exceptions of the trash men who like in real life, we can’t avoid and Cass who gets an honorable mention because *eye* am personally rather petty.
I typed this all out in a flurry right after reading and it probably doesn’t make much sense as I’m blabbering but, tl;dr, love this book, I got reminded of M.O’s “hey Queen” speech towards the end when Queenie and Darcy had the pep talk and I definitely think it should be on everyone’s reading list for the year (it’ll make a great summer read for when you go on vacation, you’re welcome).