Content Note: abuse, sexualized violence, self-harm, mental illness, (critical treatment of) racism and misogynoir
Queenie works as a journalist and lives with her boyfriend Tom. Or rather, she lived with Tom – until Tom decided to stay with his parents for a while. When Tom finally asks Queenie to move out of their apartment while they are on a break, Queenie starts to unravel completely. She feels out of place at work and with her family, and generally feels out of sorts. While her friends try to support her, it is unclear whether Queenie can support herself.
Queenie is an unusual book in that it both handles really tough topics and has the tone of a RomCom most of the time. You have to brace yourself for many parts of the novel, and then you find yourself laughing again. It is a mix that is both uncomfortable and works extremely well. I was very impressed by it, especially considering that it’s a debut novel.
Queenie is a complex character and here coming-of-age is complicated further by having suffered abuse in the past and by simple being a Black woman in a racist world. It’s no surprise that the book is about her falling apart in quite a few ways.
If she had been white, I can see the book making light of her crisis and it not becoming quite as big – rather a humorous trope. But since Queenie’s very existence is politicized by being Black, that seems no option here. And so, whenever you expect the novel to make the turn that would come in your usual RomCom, when Mister Right shows up just when things seem at their darkest, things get another little bit worse for Queenie.
It’s tough to read because it seems so relentless – there the fetishizing to downright abusive dudes she dates, here the racist microaggressions from her boss, there the judgement from her family. We do get some respite because Queenie has good friends and an excellent sense of humor. But even though the novel is often witty and can even make you laugh, I definitely wouldn’t categorize it as a comedy. Fortunately, things don’t go completely dark and, without wanting to spoil too much, it’s nice to see Queenie get a good ending, growth and healing.
There were a couple of turns in the story that I did see coming, but that didn’t diminish their impact for me – I was too much with Queenie and her perspective for that. And she definitely didn’t see them coming. Going on the journey with Queenie is definitely an experience that you should give a try.
Summarizing: Really good.