It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed an ARC and actually had everything read and written and out in the world before the publication date. Go me! Though to be honest, that has a lot to do with the fact that I was super duper pumped to be approved for an early copy of this through NetGalley and basically picked it up as soon as I had finished what I was currently reading (and, in at least one case, paused in the middle of a current read…). Anyways, from the first description I read of this I knew I was going to be into it. It sounded contemporary and funny and was a new diverse voice in the writing world. Perfect. Plus, the cover is one of the more gorgeous and visually striking covers I’ve seen in awhile. And I don’t even really like orange.
Fun note: as this is my last review of the month, this is also my February book choice for the reading challenge I’m hosting in 2019, the Just One More Pa(i)ge Reading Challenge (February’s prompt was Black History Month – read a book by a Black/African-American author.) If you participated this month, leave me a comment to let me know which book you chose and what you thought of it!
This book is all about the titular Queenie. She’s your average Jamaican-British mid-twenties young adult person living in London with her boyfriend and working at a newspaper in an intro-ish level job. Basically, just living life the best she can. But things start to unravel for Queenie and pretty soon she is single, jobless, living with her grandparents, and dealing with a number of traumatic health situations, self-destructive rebound relationships and dependent friendships in quite a short amount of time. It’s a fast spiral and she’s struggling to cope. When she starts having panic attacks, she decides that perhaps, finally, it’s time to seek help. But can she truly recover and learn to deal better in the future?
Literally, Queenie is one of the most relatable characters I’ve read in years. She has a wry and kind of inappropriate sense of humor that is present from the start (I actually laughed out loud like 3 times in the first few pages). Her personality and attitude totally had me cheesing and wanting to be her friend. Though all that waned in the middle as she works through her mental health issues (naturally), it remains in undertone and starts to bounce back as she does herself…which is essentially spot on for the situation. I loved it. Also, what she is dealing with as far as jobs, relationships (friends and men both), living situation(s) and finances are all insanely familiar. And though I am not personally a minority, nor am I trying to live within two cultures at the same time, I still felt like we had a lot in common. As for the things I just mentioned that we don’t share, childhood trauma included, I thought the author did a fantastic job writing them in a way that made me deeply feel how those extra burdens made things exponentially more difficult for Queenie. That’s just great writing. Along those same lines, I was very impressed with the way Carty-Williams dealt with such incredibly intense topics (mental health, childhood trauma and the following adult self-destructiveness, race/racism, fetishizing of black bodies, interracial relationships, and so much more) in a way that was both authentic, yet surprisingly light. Based on the seriousness of the concepts addressed, this book seems like it should be a real downer, but it’s really not. I mean, it’s not a comedy, for sure, but it’s got just the right touch of realism and almost satirical dark humor that to keep it from being overwhelmingly depressing. At the same time, that doesn’t prevent the reader from understanding the gravity of Queenie’s struggles.
I just want to really call out, again, how awesome this book is in the way it deals with mental health. First of all, I truly had no idea how intense that part of the book would be, based on the description. So, I’d like to include a minor trigger warning here related to that. But I also liked that the book went there. It was such a surprise to see anxiety, panic attacks, and self-worth looked at from such a legitimately psychological perspective. And though Queenie clearly doesn’t want to see a therapist (and comes from a culture, the Jamaican half of her life, that traditionally severely frowns upon seeking counseling…more so than even the general public, which is clearly and genuinely portrayed here), I also love the way that the therapy is portrayed once it enters the picture. It’s useful and effective, but not immediately or universally so. And how that interacts with Queenie’s day-to-day life, in regards to her relationships with friends and family, as well as coping in a workplace environment, is also fully and openly developed. In general, recovery is very realistically written as a bumpy/winding path and, again, the authenticity of that representation is everything. I was not expecting the vulnerability and candidness this book had in dealing with mental health, how big a role that would play in the overall story, or how natural Queenie’s spiral would seem (bringing important light to a truth that has long been pushed under the rug – mental illness can strike anyone, at any time, regardless of background or situation). But I am here for it.
Although I was excited for this book, I did not really know what I was really getting into. And I actually think I’m glad for that. The honesty and clarity in the writing, the relatability of our heroine, and the overall beautifully handled pacing and character development were all so much more than I was expecting. This was in no way the fluffy contemporary it sounded like, that’s for sure. Yet the depth of the story took me by surprise and made me love it even more than I thought I was going to. This is definitely a novel I’ll be recommending far and wide. Check it out on its official publication date, March 19, 2109!
“…I asked, worried that the coil had maybe been absorbed into my womb, the way I still worried that every tampon I’d ever inserted was still knocking around inside me.” (Oh man, this was like, page 3, and I identified SO hard with this ridiculous worry – definitely the relatability of Queenie started right here for me.)
“Maybe if all ah we had learned to talk about our troubles, we wouldn’t carry so much on our shoulders all the way to the grave.”
“Is this what growing into an adult women is – having to predict and accordingly arrange for the avoidance of sexual harassment?” (PREACH.)
“‘You’ll meet people who ‘don’t see race’ and are ‘color-blind,’ but that’s a lie. They do see it […] And people should see it. We’re different, and they need to accept our difference […] We aren’t here for an easy ride. People are going to try to put you in a mold, they’re going to tell you who you should be and how you should act. You’re going to have to work hard to carve out your own identity, but you can do it.”