Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle-class peers. After a messy breakup from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places … including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.
As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her.
Queenie was named Book of the Year at the British Book Awards 2020. It was also labelled one of the Guardian’s Best Books of 2019 and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and Waterstones Book of the Year; all impressive accolades that were thoroughly deserved in my opinion.
Upon first impressions, the book looks like a lighthearted, contemporary read with lots of laughs and, while it certainly is all of these things, it’s also a hard-hitting, saddening story that tackles a number of difficult issues. It’s extremely hard to read in parts, particularly where you see Queenie self-destruct, making bad decisions and falling into dangerous patterns. It’s definitely a book to approach with an element of caution because it explores individual and collective trauma in eye-opening ways, but it’s also extremely important to tell these stories with honesty and underlying strength.
What I loved most about the novel was its ability to both entertain and educate in equal measure, with writing that is sharp, wise and very accessible. There’s a lot of references to casual and systematic racism, which I felt wasn’t fully explored throughout the novel. However, I think this was a deliberate tactic from the author because so much casual and systematic racism continues to exist without acknowledgement or consequence. Queenie’s issues with Tom’s family are a prime example of this and the author did a great job at drawing attention to that.
Queenie’s group of friends, who help to drive the story forward largely through a WhatsApp Group conversation, were a highlight of the novel for me, mainly because I love reading this type of dialogue. Despite Queenie’s struggles, her friends act as her support system and help her to deal with the goings-on in her life when things get really tough, while also giving her space when she needs it – something I totally related to. Friendships are not always perfect and plain-sailing, but everybody needs their girlfriends in good and hard times!
If I’m honest, there were times in the book where I wanted to shake Queenie and tell her to stop wallowing, but in many ways, this just made the character more realistic. The author was incredibly successful at creating a heroine who was flawed, broken and beautifully human – she’s a bit of a hot mess, but I was constantly rooting for her. At times, you think you hate her, sometimes you feel sorry for her, but mostly you understand her and appreciate the why behind her actions and behaviours.
Overall, I absolutely loved Queenie as a protagonist and think the book is brilliant! I’d love to read a sequel to find out what happens next for these fantastic characters.
Goodreads rating – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️