This week I finished reading Queenie. Written by Candice Carty-Williams, this book has been recommended to me several times over the past year but I just hadn’t got around to reading it. While browsing my local Waterstones however, I noticed Queenie was on offer and I couldn’t resist buying it.
Wow. Just wow. What a journey reading this book has been. I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum but be cautious if you haven’t had the joy of reading it yet.
Queenie is about a black woman of the same name living in south London as she tried to navigate life around her struggling relationship, unhealthy coping mechanisms, mental health and the judgment she faces because of the colour of her skin. The story opens hard, touching upon a subject rarely mentioned in any novel that I’ve read before and bringing light and normality to a situation that isn’t spoken about on a regular basis. It was a brilliant way to keep me reading as not only did I instantly become invested in a character I’d just met but I also wanted to educate myself on an area I knew very little about. The book brought in topics that (I personally) hadn’t been taught at school and it would have been my own responsibility to learn about if and when I needed to but reading Queenie and hearing how this character felt was more educational than any Wikipedia page.
Despite the tough opening, the first half of the book is relatively fun, normal but most importantly realistic. We follow Queenie as she goes to work, hangs out with friends, goes on dates and tackles her traditional family. Everything you read, you can imagine happening in your own life and I find that this really helps you connect with the story. Nothing is perfect. There’s no fairytales, just cold hard reality and it’s so refreshing! Perfectly paced, you can feel the tension grown as Queenie’s behaviour becomes more and more unstable. As a reserved person myself (regarding sex at least) I found it more and more fascinating reading this character self-destruct in a way that I know a lot of people do but I will (hopefully) never experience.
The second half the story focuses on Queenie’s road to acceptance and recovery. This side of the story came a little left field. I’d witnessed Queenie’s rapid decline over the first 150+ pages but I wasn’t quite prepared for the sudden diversion and introduction of therapy into the story. Now don’t get me wrong, this was a great introduction. Nothing fancy, no major climactic event, just like real life. Most mental illnesses develop gradually and it’s common for the sufferer to be in denial about what’s really happening. This is what struck me with Queenie. Her friends and family had noticed that her behaviour was not only out of character but also getting out of hand. I know form first hand experience how easy it is to get sucked into a vortex of negative behaviour and if you don’t fight it, it can almost make your feel invincible. It’s a scary and dangerous ride to be on but all too consuming.
Queenie’s recovery really hit home for me and I’m sure it will with a lot of other people out there. While reading her experiances with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural therepy), I could draw correlations between trials and tribulations and the techniques I used to combat panic attacks and negative thoughts in the past. Queenie’s journey is realistic and that’s what makes this book so credible.
As the story drew to a close, I couldn’t help but want more. It ended without a bang (which felt a little unsatisfying when I first finished it) but in hindsight, it was perfect. Following the theme of the book, it ended with a pause rather than a full stop; Queenie’s story isn’t over just because there are no more words to read. She continues to live (and struggle) beyond the pages and you really feel that. It isn’t so much a ‘happy ever after’ but rather a turning point. A new chapter and I absolutely love that.
Overall, Queenie isn’t what I was expecting. It’s had fun, laughter, sorrow and heart crammed into 300+ pages. The story flows perfectly with brilliant little flashbacks that capture your imagination. I loved how during the first few months of Queenie’s ‘break’, the flashbacks were every few pages but as time went on and she got used to the idea of a life without Tom, the flashbacks (or memories) became less and less common. It’s a great way to give us some exposition without it feeling forced.
Another pivotal point Queenie highlights is the Black Lives Matter movements. A horrible irony is that currently, the UK and USA have seen a huge wave of support towards the campaign following the death of George Floyd. Queenie is a very proud black woman living in a world that seems to still find issue with the colour of people’s skins. As a white, British woman, I’ll never know what that feels like and it honestly fills me with boiling rage to think anyone could be racist, yet sadly, it still happens. I found it rather thought provoking. I was raised to believe that the colour of ones skin is irrelevant and it’s personality that shines through but Queenie mentions that colour is something that should be recognised just not in a derogatory way. You should be proud of who you are and skin colour makes up part of that. I hadn’t thought that in my efforts to not come across as racist, that I was in fact just ignoring what makes us, us. Black movement has come such a long away and the fact that is had to be a movement at all is enough to acknowledge skin colour in a positive way.
If you haven’t has chance to read Queenie yet, I strongly recommend that you do. It’s a glimpse into the life of a 25 year old in the 21st century with a multitude of usually untouched topics. It’s real and I honestly feel like a better person afterwards. I struggled to put this book down, each characters is relatable and Queenie’s friends, much like my own, help her get through it. Well, most of them… Fuck Cassandra.