This raw and honest story follows the life of Queenie Jenkins, a young black woman of Caribbean descent living in London. After her boyfriend of three years asks that they take a break, Queenie is left questioning her life and where it’s heading. She moves down a path of self-destruction, not caring for her mental and physical wellbeing as she feels her life spin out of control.
Queenie is an open exploration of race, sexism and mental health and how important it is to respect ourselves as women. Queenie has sexual encounters with many disrespecting men and it is often difficult to follow her through this self-deprecating time. She loses all sense of self-worth and it spreads to affect all aspects of her life, her job, family and friends.
Regardless of this, Queenie is a likeable and realistic character. You want her to realise her worth and gain the confidence she deserves. Her pain is often hidden behind witty quips and indifference. Yet her actions have grim consequences for her career and personal life and she eventually seeks therapy, making the decision to change her life around. You are always wanting her to succeed and are willing to stay to the end to make sure that happens.
The book delves into very dark subjects, discussing issues of racism, sexism and abuse that Queenie has experienced and still frequently experiences. Her childhood issues were still evident into adulthood, her fear of black men and the demeaning perception of herself because of this abuse. I felt that the book dealt with mental health very well and is the most prominent part of the story. Queenie’s growing anxiety coupled with the lack of control in her life is a realistic issue and one that is written with care. Taking the time to move into therapy and show the slow process of improvement was something I admired about the writer for including.
One thing that I would have liked to have been fleshed out more is Queenie’s background. Her past influences her life drastically and is something I would have liked to hear more about. As debut novels go it is still exceptional. It is truly a feminist story, bringing forth the message that, as a woman, you are the one who saves yourself.
Candice Carty-Williams recently won book of the year at the British Book Awards for Queenie and for good reason. She is insightful and honest and more stories need to be read of that integrity. More stories need to be read of that diversity and I hope Queenie is the beginning of an inclusive list of future winners.
Words and photo by by Hannah Walker.