In Candice Carty-Williams’ debut, Queenie, she explores the life of a young black British Jamaican woman. The eponymous novel’s main character faces choices where we see immediate consequences.
What can I say about this book? Every word hit home, even though I’m from a Generation Xer and the main character is clearly a younger millennial. I found common ground with a woman with issues, not unlike those I experienced in my younger years. While she lives in London (My favorite international city, by the way), her life could easily transport itself to New York or Los Angeles.
However, I wish to make my stance clear. One must not be a black woman to appreciate the slice of life Carty-Williams writes. One simply must be open-minded enough to see another woman’s journey whose differences spices what would be seen as average to some readers.
She’s dancing between two cultures (British and Jamaican with a strong American influence) while not neatly conforming or fitting into either of them. She’s employed at a newspaper and appears to do everything right, according to her elders, but is she normal? What counts as normalcy, and do we want her to live it?
Consider the pros and cons I discovered below as I read this book.
- Discussion of the Strong Black Woman Trope. Queenie’s trying to keep it together for her friends and family, but realizes that something’s got to give. The trope hurts her and she knows it. Therapy plays a role in her life, even if family members don’t approve, due to perceived cultural rejection of the practice.
- Hair and Body Positivity. Queenie’s curvy and she accepts it. She refuses to lose weight, despite her family’s and associates’ objections. Also, she loves her natural hair and discusses care and treatment without feeling the need to shoulder society’s rejection.
- An Overall Good Friendship Circle. With the exception of one “friend”, Queenie has girlfriends she can trust. They reciprocate love and support whenever she needs it as well as how much she gives them.
- A Good Family Network. Okay, while at times her grandmother and aunt can say things that would lead readers to cringe, they demonstrate that, despite problematic moments, she can rely on them to help.
- Mental and Physical Health. Queenie faces these issues as the book progresses and they’re discussed realistically, especially as a black woman.
- The Lives of Black Women. The book does not refrain from presenting what black women encounter often daily. From being seeing as sex objects to not attaining respect at work, Carty-Williams explores these notions with fluidity, openness, and respect.
- Cultural Connectivity. What does it mean to be a black woman? Jamaican? How does Gentrification threaten both? I love seeing these topics mentioned with honesty.
- Real Struggles Milennials Face. Nothing’s sugarcoated or censured. From hunger to being broke to high rent, Carty-Williams lays out issues facing Millennials everywhere.
- Carty-Williams’ usage of black American slang jarred me a bit. Queenie’s British Jamaican, not American. So, would she really use so much black American slang? I get the global desire to use cultural aspects of black Americans, but someone living in London, I expected more slang native to her location.
- Windrush is a bit deal in London. It received a blip of a mention. Considering the author’s and Queenie’s heritage, I expected more discussion alongside Black Lives Matter (still an American phenomenon). The MC spoke much of losing her heritage to gentrification, but she only mentioned Windrush as a square and ship, not the movement and anti-immigration stance taken. Odd.
Despite those two cons, Queenie deserves a read and I highly recommend this ‘coming of age’ story about a young black woman in London trying to find her way via mistakes and revelations. She requires patience because the choices offered and decided upon require the same. Grant this character the same grace as you would characters with far less on their plate.