I hadn’t heard of Queenie, until I read vel veeter’s recent review, and made an immediate mental note to check it out. I’m glad I did.
Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.
As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her.
With “fresh and honest” (Jojo Moyes) prose, Queenie is a remarkably relatable exploration of what it means to be a modern woman searching for meaning in today’s world.
The story starts out with the reader learning that Queenie is “taking a break” from her boyfriend, Tom, and really struggling with it. She and Tom were supposed to be together forever, weren’t they? The book jumps back and forth to show flashes of things that happened in the past, and the reader can easily and clearly see, that no, she and Tom were not meant to be together forever. But Queenie doesn’t see what we see. Queenie wants a quick fix to her situation – she wants someone to take care of her, someone to love her, someone to rely on. She has a fractured relationship with her mother, which have led to serious trust issues for Queenie and she was pretty much looking to Tom to fill all of the relationship holes in her life.
Queenie may not have a great love life right now (seriously, she does some awful things with some TERRIBLE men), but she does have a terrific group of friends and extended family trying to support her. She has a fun chat group (THE CORGIS) that includes her best friend from work, her best friend from middle school, and best friend from college, and they band together to try and get Queenie to see how wonderful she is, and to get past some major tragedies from her past that are clearly affecting her current actions. Her relationship issues create problems in every aspect of her life. Soon she finds herself without anywhere to live, without a job, and without a clear picture of what her future is going to look like. Queenie tries to fix everything. She gets an apartment and tries living on her own (for the first time ever). She tries online dating (to pass the time until Tom realizes he wants her to come back). She offers up ideas to the magazine for stories about #METOO and Black Lives Matter, but her ideas aren’t fully formed and aren’t exactly welcomed by the stodgy (aka white) editorial board. (Actually, I was furious when Queenie suggested a story about important black women in the #metoo movement but was told instead to do a presentation about the best black dresses worn to events by women in the #metoo movement. COME ON, BUZZFEED-ESQUE WEBSITE.)
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
This book has been compared a lot to Bridget Jones’ Diary, and I get that. Single woman looking for love in and figuring out her career in London with great friends and lots of humor helping her on her way.
But Bridget Jones never has a nervous breakdown. Even in the bizarre third book, after Mark dies and Bridget struggles, she doesn’t have a full-on breakdown.
Queenie does. And I don’t think I’ve ever read such a powerful and real description of one before and it is emotionally draining at times. Sometimes Queenie would do something and I’d be about to tell her NO because I knew the world of hurt it was going to bring for her. And she knew, too, but couldn’t stop herself from thinking that she deserved to feel that way. Queenie’s family doesn’t believe in therapy, so for Queenie to take the step to actually call for help was huge, and gave me great relief.
I appreciated that going to therapy didn’t magically cure Queenie, that it was a long process that she got through by taking baby steps, and sometimes steps backwards. She faces her demons (her mother, Cassandra, TERRIBLE TWEED GLASSES) and shows real growth while she figures out who she is and what she wants. And we root for Queenie at every turn. We want her to be ok, even if we HATED some of the things that she did and the reasons that she did them.
Bottom line: Queenie is funny and sad, lighthearted and tragic. I wanted to hug Queenie (but not touch her hair) and let her know that she was going to be ok — but Queenie didn’t need my hug, she was strong enough without it. And she is going to be ok.