Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Read by Shvorne Marks
Published March 2019 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: audiobook from my local library
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.
Review after review has compared this book to Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary. It’s true that both Bridget and Queenie are young women struggling with their careers and dating in London, both supported by a group of loyal friends. But, whereas the Bridget Jones book are meant as funny romantic larks, Queenie has so much more depth and a darkness to it that Bridget Jones is almost entirely lacking.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Bridget Jones. But while you will laugh along with Bridget and hope that she’ll find true love in the end, you’ll want to wrap your arms around Queenie and beg her to treat herself better, to love herself more. And Queenie gives readers something new – a British heroine who is not only black but the granddaughter of Jamaican immigrants. It allows Carty-Williams to explore what it’s like to be a black woman, what it’s like to part of a family with roots still deeply in their immigrant roots, and what it’s like to watch your history slowly being eaten up by gentrification.
The Guardian calls Queenie “breezy” and “amusing.” Truly, there are parts of this book that are very amusing (Carty-Williams has a wicked sense of humor), but breezy it is not. Queenie’s problems with nightmares, low self-esteem, and terrible choice in men stem not just from having “no space” for a woman like her but also from growing up with a stepfather who was so abusive that her mother…well, I’m not going to tell you what her mother did, I don’t want to ruin the book, but it will break your heart. And Queenie doesn’t just hook up with the kind of poor choices we usually see in rom-com’s; she hooks up with a lot of really awful men. When Queenie finally decides to go to therapy (much to her grandmother's consternation), so many people have already dumped on her that you sort of expect therapy to go just a poorly as everything else in her life. But Carty-Williams is not entirely heartless.
I’m sure this book is absolutely marvelous in print but, if you have the chance, you really should listen to it instead. Shvorne Marks does an incredible job reading the book. You can't really race through an audiobook (well, you can but then it sounds like so many chipmunks and no one can take that for long) so you just have to make ways to listen more often. Let's just say that I spent a lot of time with earbuds in, ignoring my family while I was listening to Queenie.