I want to fight Queenie.
Okay, maybe not fight. Not physically, anyway. I just want to take her out for coffee and a very stern junior auntie-in-training chat about her life and her choices, ending with one question–“Girl, why don’t you love yourself at all?”
She’s twenty-five, works at a London newspaper, has great friends–English rose Darcy, Peckham gyal Kyazike, and posh Cassandra–and a loving, if troubled Jamaican immigrant family. Yet, when her long-term boyfriend–an annoyingly basic white guy who lets his uncle make racist jokes–breaks up with her and throws her out of the apartment, Queenie goes into a spiral that is frankly hard to watch. She starts messing up at work, drinking too much and sleeping with a string of the most hopeless losers I’ve ever seen on a page–married men, objectifying fetishists, weirdos, creeps, geeks and a few alarmingly open racists. These men are all white or Asian, and it almost goes without saying that misogynoir and internalized self-disgust play a large part in Queenie’s struggle to heal.
I’ve been talking about Queenie and Company as though they were real people, and they really do feel alive, which is a testament to Carty-Williams talent for character. This book has been called a Black British Bridget Jones, and there’s something to that. Culturally I appreciated reading something real and feminine and modern about an British Jamaican woman, but at least Bridget was having fun. Queenie is in real pain, and it hurts to live life with her for a few months worth of miserable plot twists after plot twist. There’s something true in Queenie’s pain that goes beyond entertainment and hits Black women in a very real and tender place–especially those of us who, like her, are too soft and squishy for the hard roles a white supremacist world often tries to foist on us. But she and her family and friends feel so real, and are so determined to reach a loving, joyful place in life despite being dealt some really crappy cards that it all feels worth it in the end. I was genuinely surprised at how caught up in Queenie’s life I was and how deep the empathy ran, even when I wanted to snatch her up or was squirming from secondhand embarrassment. I wasn’t expecting to be so touched by the ending, either. It’s happy, but not perfect, and while it’s a very, very small victory, it feels so hard-earned that you can’t help but cheer Queenie on.
5 stars and a smiley emoji in the group text to Queenie.
(Fellow readers! I wasn’t expecting this to be a 5-star read but it was! If you want to give it a try for yourself, check out your local library or find it in the Equal Opportunity Bookshop here. As always, this blog has affiliate relationships and any links you click or purchases you make may result in a commission being paid. Peace!)