With both of the readathons I’m taking part in this month – Make Your Myth Taker, and The Olympic Games – I had my lists written up and ready to go. Then with the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping across the world in the wake of horrific incidents, attention was drawn via Twitter to black writers, and reading more black voices. As much as I would hope my reading is fairly diverse, I was shocked to find that with all the books I had picked out, I didn’t have any by authors of colour.
Although the rules very much were about not changing your list once written, I couldn’t not after that, and even if this is just one incident, it has made me far more aware of the number of books by black authors I own, and how I need to read more. I challenged myself last year to make sure I was reading more books by women, and now I need to do the same thing again. Know better, do better.
I started reading Queenie last year, but because of some of the subjects covered in it, I wasn’t in a place to read it. Perfect for fitting the category for a book outside of my comfort zone! I powered through this time, and I’m glad I did.
Queenie as a character is struggling, without realizing she is at first, and slowly watches things unravel around her. The group of friends she has added to a WhatsApp group do their best to support her and her self destructive behaviour, but it isn’t until she really breaks down that she can start to build back up.
What I really loved about this book was how relatable it was. I have Latina heritage but I’m not a person of colour, so I couldn’t relate to the racism Queenie encounters through her story. However, as a woman who has been through trauma, and done the whole self destruction, pushing people away, turning into a blubbering mess after making things worse for myself – yes, I very much could relate. And I think so many other women can, we just don’t talk about it because we carry that bundle of shame with us. Queenie taught me to let go of that bundle, if nothing else.
The book looks at issues such as racism, sexism, unraveling relationships, depression, anxiety, and the stigma of dealing with both sexual and mental health issues. The frank discussions Queenie ends up having with sexual health nurses are written in Candice Carty-Williams’s typical cutting style; sharp enough to make you laugh and wince all at once. Things like these need depicting in modern fiction, as we need to make it more natural to mention occurrences such as sexual health visits, to take away some of the anxiety.
Near the start of the story, Queenie also finds out she is having a miscarriage. As someone who has had two miscarriages myself, I know the deep impact these losses can leave, and so to see this shown in Queenie, who wasn’t even intending on becoming pregnant, is another important inclusion.
Carty-Williams seems determined to cover as many Taboos For Women as possible, that mental list that is branded into us via society from a very young age. By tackling as much as reasonable expected in one book, the author has allowed a huge breath of fresh air to enter the modern book shelves. From casual sex to friendship breakdowns, Queenie is like a guide to coming alive in your twenties; if you can’t relate to all of it, you can to some of it.
What I thought was really important was that at the end of the book, there was no magic fix. Queenie was still recovering and learning how to handle her mental health, which is so important, as people often expect not just happy endings in books, but unrealistic recovery times from those struggling with mental illness. I’ve always been very open personally about my struggles, but time and again in my own life, I’ve been asked “are you okay now?” in hushed tones, and not just from older relatives.
Overall the book was a painful, beautiful read, a welcome change from the expectations of women both in life and literature, showing that if you don’t fit into that absurd mold, you have to make your own. A highly recommended read to everyone.