Flashbacks Waking Me Up

If I’m being honest, I didn’t fully understand white privilege until a couple of months ago. I’m ashamed of this. I knew it existed, and that it had been a part of my life as much as any other white person’s, but I didn’t really get it. It’s important to admit ignorance and more importantly to overcome it.

I was running on a hot, humid July day and listening to Armchair Expert, a fantastic podcast with Dax Shepard, when it happened. He was interviewing one of my favorite humans — and one of the most woke — Sophia Bush, the genius who gave the world Brooke Davis. As she explained that white privilege is not meant to diminish anybody’s suffering but rather to illustrate that suffering as a white person has never been the result of the color of our skin, it clicked for me.

It is so blatantly clear that white privilege exists.

And it’s this theme, along with feminism, humor, and mental health, that brings us Queenie, a 2019 novel that author Richard Roper recommended to me. This book is the epitome of intersectionality (don’t worry: I had to Google that term too) and all sorts of sociological terms rolled up into a few hundred pages, but author, Candice Carty-Williams, injects plenty of laughs into it as well. That means we should have a compelling novel on our hands. Unfortunately, I only felt connected and drawn to half of this book, leaving me confused about my feelings. Carty-Williams tackles a lot of topics and their complex relationships with one another in Queenie, and it’s certainly a book we need in 2019. But is it the novel that fully delivers on it’s worth? I’m not sure.


Source: Amazon.com

“Turns out the sadness that silence from the person you love brings can be temporarily erased by the dull thrill of attention from strangers.” — Queenie

Queenie Jenkins and her boyfriend, Tom, have just agreed to go on a break (though I’m getting major Friends vibes here). But Queenie, a 25-year-old Jamaican-British woman living in London, really doesn’t know how she’ll move on without Tom, a white man whose family wasn’t afraid to throw around racists comments during their three-year romance.

She’s no stranger to heartbreak and hardship, but that doesn’t stop her from spiraling out of control. She begins sleeping around, which lead to many visits to the sexual health clinic; receives warnings at work for talking too much and doing too little; and loses her self-worth without Tom around. En route to rock bottom, she continually searches for her purpose in a world that’s trying to too narrowly define her as racism and sexism intersectionality at every point in her life.

Queenie follows a similar theme I’ve encountered many times in 2019. From memoirs to comedic fiction, I’ve read a lot about mental health and learned how it lives on a spectrum and that it can’t be easily defined. Each book taught me a new aspect about a side of our health that is commonly cast aside. For me, Queenie, emphasized how mental health issues can be exasperated or even be catalyzed by the systemic racism, sexism, hatred, and the unfair boxes society puts us in.

Going through a breakup, struggling at work, or coming to terms with your mom’s past mistakes can be tough enough — especially when they’re bundled together. But having to deal with that on top of discriminatory comments from all angles can only diminish your self-worth. This seems to be the exact point of intersectionalism and what Carty-Williams tries to convey.

“The road to recovery is not linear. It’s not straight. It’s a bumpy path, with lots of twists and turns. But you’re on the right track.” — Queenie

Unfortunately, the power this book derives doesn’t really resonate until the latter half. For one thing, I feel like the beginning is repetitive when I really just want to get to the main point. I detect extraneous detail and scenes, though this is likely a purposeful literary decision to illustrate how one bad decision or painful moment doesn’t bring clarity. It takes a slew of them. In theory, this makes sense; however, from my point of view, things seem discombobulated and make me annoyed with Queenie.

The logistics of the beginning confuse me as well. Carty-Williams relies heavily on throwback scenes to detail Queenie’s life with Tom before they break up, but it’s not immediately clear that the book is throwing it back to the past. Now maybe this was because I read it on an e-reader, and I don’t necessarily need chronology in a novel. I do demand some clarity, though, if the author is going to switch up space and time.

“I wished that well-meaning white liberals would think before they said things that they thought were perfectly innocent.” — Queenie

Alas, Queenie (the book and the main character) finds its rhythm halfway through, and the varying degrees of emotional burden start taking shape. Further, the ideas of racism, gentrification, and sexism start illuminating on the periphery, which are the most compelling and telling moments.

“Carty-Williams [casts] a full glare on the damaging reductive stereotypes, born of slavery and colonialism, that surround black women’s bodies, sexuality and psychology,” writes Diana Evans for The Guardian.

It’s also just a funny book, and I found myself smiling and snorting with laughter several times. (Who doesn’t love British humour?) Then there’s her close group of girlfriends who tell the truth and have Queenie’s back at each wrong turn, which is something to celebrate. Let’s here it for #womensupportingwomen.

These great aspects don’t draw the full picture though.

Once again, I have a novel on my hands where I appreciate the premise and message more than the entire story. I even admit that by the end, I was reflecting on such a “refreshing and interesting” book. While true, I can’t deny my initial feelings of confusion and agitation (this Midwestern upbringing surrounds me with every book I read). I don’t rate a book on only a portion; I must consider it as a whole. Therefore, Queenie only garners three flames.

But if you ask, I’m still going to tell you to read it. Everything this novel says has a much greater power and purpose than how it’s said.

“My eyes must spend at least fifty per cent of any given day rolled to the back of my head.” — Queenie


6 thoughts on “Flashbacks Waking Me Up

  1. Pingback: Ranked: Reads in 2019 | Big Little Literature

  2. I did read this book with great interest but was curiously disappointed. I am glad to see this book out there but feel we do have to be honest if a book is really good, excellent, great or just plain average.
    If you want to read something that is actually truly ‘woke’ then read The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison or Native Son by Richard Wright. Yeah, they are old books but they cut to the heart of the matter. Along with James Baldwin and Toni Morrison they are truest things I have read on this subject, stand the test of time, and are still far ahead of what is being written in terms of sheer literary merit and insightfulness.


  3. You’re welcome! The Invisible Man is slow at the start by really takes around the first quarter. One set of books I have enjoyed reading is Gereon Rath detective novels by Volker Kutscher. It starts with Babylon Berlin and are set in Germany about 1929. There is an excellent TV series based on the first book is phenomenal; it was biggest ( and I think most successful) TV series to have come out of Germany. That’s assuming you like detective novels…


  4. Pingback: Literature and the Power of Diversity | Big Little Literature

  5. Pingback: Reflection | Big Little Literature

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