The Reading List: Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams, 2019

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Orange book colour with a black drawing of a woman's head, without a visible face but with a thick pile of braids neatly secured on top of her head, and with two earrings in the back of her ear.

Funny and moving debut novel introducing lovable and memorable characters

I feel like I’ve seen this book on every blog I follow, so it was only a matter of time before it featured on The Reading List. Long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, it is a fantastic exploration of what it feels like to be a young black woman in the UK. This is essential reading for anyone who wants to learn about the pressures, micro- and macro-aggressions that black women experience every day. It’s a wonderful story about a woman coming to know and understand herself, with an ultimately triumphant message about the power of self-acceptance and real friendship. It felt genuinely uplifting to follow the eponymous Queenie through her highs, lows, and to her final, if unconventional, happy ending.

I am very privileged that as a white woman I have been shielded from many of the issues Queenie faces, but anyone who aspires or claims to be intersectional in their feminism has a duty towards their black sisters. Hell, duty aside, caring about them should be a given! If like me you’ve avoided interacting with racism in this way, Queenie could serve as a good eye-opener. I hope that it has been, as it has swept the world, selling in huge numbers. Carty-Williams is apparently adapting it for TV, giving us something to look forward to. It’s also one of the books that came back to the fore in light of the recent Black Lives Matters protests. Hopefully the white people who bought it from this perspective had followed through and read it, and are thinking more critically about their interactions with black people, and each other, as a result.

Rarely has writing on the subject of anxiety felt so real and relatable

Queenie is a fantastic representation of how all pervasive and damaging racism – whatever the scale – can be to the individuals who experience it. Because Carty-Williams has written brilliantly about the experience of anxiety and mental ill-health. Queenie’s experiences are closely intertwined with the racism she faces, and the many and complex ways her identity as a black woman interact with and shape her experience of mental ill-health are deftly presented. The way Carty-Williams presents it will be recognisable to anyone who has suffered from anxiety; rarely has writing on this subject felt so real and relatable to me.

Defying the expectations we might have for something billed as the latest Bridget Jones, Carty-Williams has created a story steeped in reality, in the truth of human lives. It is a book that rejects narrative norms. She doesn’t ‘get the guy’, there’s no triumphant moment of revenge, just human growth and compassion.

Queenie is a wonderful character who will go down in history as a classic heroine. She is a heroine for the modern age: relatable, lovable, and setting some thoroughly healthy goals. No Mark Darcys here, but plenty of deep, meaningful friendships. In short, this book is everything we need right now. I can’t wait to read whatever Carty-Williams writes next.


What did you think of Queenie? I realise it’s probably had quite a lot of hype now, but for once I think it totally lived up to it. I found it gripping and enjoyable, and it managed a great balance of being easy to read whilst still having plenty of depth. I’d love to hear your reflections in the comments below!

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