So here’s the thing. Some people are not going to like this book. They are going to be upset by how Queenie conducts herself and how messy (she was super messy) her life was and how it’s not a good look for a black character. I would argue that is wrong. I don’t mind messy books or characters. Those books feel more real to me. I like the underlying message this book had about mental health and how our pasts don’t have to dictate our future. I also would love to see a follow-up to Queenie. The ending sets things in a good place, but we know that there is still more work for her to do.
“Queenie” follows 25 year old Queenie who is struggling with her life right now. Queenie has a sort of dead end job at a newspaper. Her long-time boyfriend of three years Tom wants a break. And Queenie’s Jamaican family is not sympathetic to her heartbreak. Her friends are to a point, but everyone wants her to move on and get going. Instead Queenie flounders (badly) and finds herself in some raw/brutal situations with men all because she keeps thinking that sex is going to lead to love. Queenie doesn’t know who she is without Tom and is going through the motions until they get back together. “Queenie” explores Jamaican heritage, mental health issues, sexual explicit situations, and black lives matters.
I saw myself in this character a lot. It brought back the stupid things I did in my 20s all for trying to be with someone who wasn’t worth the effort I was going through. Like Queenie, I dated (or used to date) white men and with that comes it’s own sort of challenges, mainly racism. Because as I have already said here, sometimes certain people are a big R or a little r when it comes to racism.
With Queenie and her ex Tom you see that Tom’s family was a big old letter R and he was a little r. He thought he was a hip liberal ally and he was when his family wasn’t being terrible to his long-time girlfriend. And I thought that Queenie was right on for calling out Tom for the BS that was going on, and I hated that she was berating herself for actually saying something about it. I also cringed at times though because Queenie didn’t slow down at times to think through what she was saying or actions she was going to take in different situations in this book. I thought it was smart that Cart-Williams showed instances of Tom and Queenie’s relationship juxtaposed against what Queenie was up to in the present day. She definitely was looking at things with rose-colored glasses.
I also liked that we slowly got information on Queenie and why she was partially estranged from her mother and why she avoided black men. My heart hurt for her and I got it, and sighed. I also get why that piece offended some readers.
The development of the secondary characters like Darcy, Cassandra, and my girl Kyazike was great. I also loved her grandparents, her aunt, and her cousin Diana. Everyone felt so real to me while I was reading. We also get a variety of men that Queenie gets involved with and I seriously disliked and in one case loathed them. In all of these “relationships” Queenie is just trying to take any scrap of love she can, it ends up being very hard to read because Queenie just can’t get anything together.
I thought that the writing was engaging. It’s very raw and open. I felt myself cringing at times due to the situations that Queenie gets into. I wanted to yell stop, you are worth more than this, but she just kept doing things over and over again. I seriously wanted to tell her that Tom wasn’t worth anything at all and the other men she gets involved with were terrible too. The flow was great and though I wanted to stop a few times, I was glad I continued.
The setting of a London where there are different ways of lives for those who are “British” and other was eye-opening. Queenie talks about black lives matter and wanting to do more stories or attempt to do stories on that, but she honestly is so scared of her own blackness I wanted to pat her on the head and tell her to go sit down. She sees things at a superficial level I thought at times, however, I realized that Queenie just wants anyone to see that being separate/different from white is hard and that it comes with its own challenges. I think that Tom shutting her up about his family’s racism is what makes her latch onto the movement so much because she felt unworthy to be in their presence after what they said and did to her.
The ending leaves things in a new place for Queenie. A healthier and stronger place.