Book Review: Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams

“Is this what growing into an adult woman is---having to predict and accordingly arrange for the avoidance of sexual harassment?”

Ok, y’all. This book is a TRIP! After reading Queenie last year, I was reeling! There was just a lot about it I wasn’t there for. 😬 But, if a writer can make you feel SO strongly about a book’s characters, that’s worth thinking about. So, I put some distance between Queenie and I, and recently revisited the book. While I still struggled with a lot of things, I want to give this book the space to have a black female protagonist who is messy, who is SO trifling at times you want to jump through the book and shake some sense into her, who wants to get her life together, but is perpetually self-sabotaging and actually starts to do the work to figure out why. After all, “[w]e deserve to have our wrongdoing represented as much as our heroism, because when we refuse wrongdoing as a possibility for a group of people, we refuse their humanity” (Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House). Queenie floundered at start. Perhaps purposefully, as it mirrors the protagonist’s own insensibility and waywardness. But just as the book wanes into do not finish territory, our heroine, for whom the book is titled, begins to regain her sanity, and Queenie, despite its erratic start, starts to round out. ⠀ Queenie is saved by its seamless dialogue, comic relief and many moments of poignancy, especially when dealing with the heroine’s mental health rehabilitation. Less carefully rendered are the references to Black Lives Matter, the protagonist’s eroticization under the white male gaze and gentrification’s disintegration of London’s ethnic enclaves. While Queenie’s blackness and black femaleness molds the way the world sees her and the way she sees herself, the handling of race and gender, and the intersection of the two, often feels forced and cursory. The more compelling glimpse into the Queenie’s personhood comes with the complexity and care given to her familial relationships which are treated with a ruthless humanness that brings them to life. ⠀ Branded as “Americanah meets Bridget Jones Diary” the love story here is ultimately one of self love. And in the end, Queenie discovers, and gracefully reminds us, that we are enough.

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