After a long period of not being able to finish a book during this pandemic, I lost myself in two pretty good ones this past weekend, Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and Black Women Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen. Both books shared many common themes: family relationships, work stressors, love, and Black women’s mental health. The main characters, Queenie in Queenie and Tabby in Black Women Must Die Exhausted, are both dealing with identity issues, whether it be related to their career paths, their choice to have (or not have) children, or their relationship status. I related to them both in many ways, and reading them in the same weekend made me reflect on some of my own thoughts around identity, job/career status, and the role that mental health issues play in the lives of Black women. As it’s May, and Mental Health Awareness month, I figured it would be as good a time as any to write about it. This review will specifically focus on Queenie.
Queenie opens with Queenie at the gynecologist. She is worried about her IUD because she is also having issues with her boyfriend, Tom, and knows it’s not time for a baby. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), it is discovered she has had a miscarriage. This news sends Queenie on a road to self-discovery, traumatizing sexual experiences, the ability to do her job, a fuller exploration of her friendships with other women, and acknowledgement of her mental health and anxiety issues.
Queenie, a Jamaican Brit, has been dating Tom, who is white, for over three years. They are on a break when she learns of the miscarriage, and soon she moves out of the flat that they shared. She reaches out to him a few times, but their relationship is one of many that falls apart as this book goes along.
As Queenie tries to move on from Tom, she encounters several new men, none of whom are any good for her. She goes through a series of what can only be described as traumatic sexual experiences with a number of men, including a former Pakistani neighbor, a man named Ted from her job, a man named Guy who she meets at a party, and a few other nameless men as the book goes along. Queenie obviously has some issues with men and sexuality that need to be addressed, as she never describes any pleasure of her own in these encounters; it is all for the companionship and the feel of a man beside her.
Queenie works for a newspaper, but rarely gets any work done. Every scene where she is talking about her job, I am impatiently waiting for the other shoe to drop and for her to be fired. There is no way that someone gets this many chances and screws up at work this many times in real life and still keeps their job! One of her closest friends, Darcy, is also her coworker, and it’s Darcy who helps her to keep her job and covers for her when she is clearly off her game in the workplace.
After a series of VERY unfortunate events, Queenie is finally directed to seek counseling and agrees to go. After mulling over bringing shame to her Jamaican family, who thinks she can just pray away whatever is going on with her (how many of us have heard this?), she finally seeks the help that she desperately needs. The counseling sessions finally start to help Queenie deal with the myriad of issues that she has going on. Though the counseling helps, there are several issues that Queenie is dealing with that still don’t really get addressed in the therapy sessions or later on in the book.
Though Queenie is definitely a millennial and this book seems specifically written for that age group, I related quite a bit to some of the issues she was dealing with. Dating and relationships, high rent and gentrification, Black Lives Matter and how racism in the US and around the world are portrayed in the media, familial relationships, friendships, anxiety and the need to seek therapy; all of these topics come into play in this book and are issues that I personally relate to. I love that the book transcends beyond the group it seems to be written for. Also, though there is some slang I didn’t grasp right away because of the setting, but that did not stop me from understanding or following along with what was happening in the book.
As this quarantine has continued, I have discussed with many of my friends and family how the trauma of a global pandemic is playing out in our daily lives and the state of our mental health. There is NOTHING wrong with praying and believing in a higher power while also seeking therapy. Apps such as BetterHealth and TalkSpace make it possible to address those issues, even while being quarantined and staying safer at home. As Queenie discovers from her therapist, there are many healthy ways to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. I hope if you’re reading this and you find that you need an outlet for handling your mental health, please reach out and find a healthy resource to help you. I’m so glad I picked up this book, and I hope you’ll enjoy it if you choose to read it too!
*I am not being paid to promote any apps or websites.