In her debut novel, “Queenie,” Candice Carty-Williams tells the story of 25-year-old Queenie Jenkins, a black woman trying to navigate her life in London after a devastating breakup. Published in March 2019, Carty-Williams covers topics that are relevant to young people now such as the want for social change and justice, bad Tinder hookups, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, interracial dating, mental health, sexual harassment and more. Much like real people, Queenie is not perfect but she never pretends to be. She is funny and relatable, while also going through her own inner battles. Right off the bat, we are plunged into Queenie’s life, watching she and her boyfriend go on a “break” and figuring out her next steps. We see Queenie make a string of bad decisions while trying to figure out who she is, caught between her family’s Jamaican culture and the culture she grew up with in London.
Candice Carty-Williams got her start writing this book when she was accepted by Jojo Moyes, author of the best-seller “Me Before You,” for a free week-long writing retreat at Moyes’ countryside house. By the end of that week, Carty-Williams had written 40,000 words of “Queenie.” Her inspiration from the book came from Toni Morrison’s famous quote “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” In an interview with The Guardian, Carty-Williams explained that she had never seen herself represented in media and that this is “part of a wider problem in a publishing industry that is largely run by white middle-class people, who have limited interest in those outside their own community and experience.”
Even though the novel takes place in London, Carty-Williams references the Black Lives Matter movement in America, the shootings of black men like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, making comparisons between the United States and the United Kingdom. Even though BLM is associated with American shootings, Carty-Williams uses her platform to show that people everywhere feel these tragedies, even if they’re halfway around the world. The reader sees Queenie going to protests and marches, chanting about the injustice of these shootings, while she is still learning to use her voice to advocate for herself in her personal life. This lack of personal advocacy plays into a plot point that focuses on abuse and neglect from childhood and how important therapy, as a process, is in order to help heal, but at the same time how therapy is looked at differently between people from different ethnicities and races. We see this theme throughout when supporting characters ask what’s wrong or why she doesn’t open up and her answer is almost always, “It’s my stuff.”
Something that I loved was that Carty-Williams planned her characters out carefully, especially the women of color in the book, in order to avoid stereotypes and give readers a broader view of what it means to be black and a woman in today’s world. Another aspect I loved was Carty-Williams’s exploration of female friendships because so often friends just become a supporting character to whatever the main plot point is. We see how they interact with each other, what’s in their group chat and when they call on each other for help.
This is a great book for anyone who likes contemporary adult fiction, needs a new perspective or wants a feminist read.