Adult · Book review · contemporary

Review: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

40539165._sy475_Queenie is an adult contemporary novel following a Jamaican-British woman navigating mental illness, trauma, and a breakup.

Queenie is one of the most developed characters I’ve read so far this year. She’s full of contradictions, humor, denial and confusion, obviously dealing with a lot while doing her best to ignore that there’s even a problem (and isn’t that just the anxious person’s experience). Her coping mechanisms and self-esteem issues put her in degrading and sometimes dangerous situations involving men, which lead her to spiral.

Stories that manage to portray what is like to be mentally ill and the recovery progress while being completely honest about all the contradictions mental illness is made of aren’t common, especially ones that are as effortless as Queenie. I flied through it – and don’t get me wrong, for the most part, it’s all but a happy story.
Queenie has to deal with a lot of racist aggressions, in many different contexts, and there are several instances of men pursuing her as a fetish instead of as a person they could date, often while dating or being married to non-Black women. And the only man she’s shown dating – the one she’s breaking up with – was just racist enough to think that the overt racism coming from his family wasn’t a problem.

Queenie spends a lot of time being gaslit, being told that she was overreacting, that everything is her fault. It’s upsetting and infuriating to read, and yet this book doesn’t feel like a chore, because it feels so real and earnest. And it’s not only a story about men being horrible, it’s also about the importance of supportive friendships, and navigating difficult family relationships.
I loved reading about Queenie’s family. It’s clear that they love her, and want the best for her, but can’t always communicate or understand what would actually be best for Queenie. They eventually support her in her journey of dealing with her childhood trauma and mental illness, and I’m always glad to see both that and stories about adult characters in which grandparents have an important role.

What I liked the most about this, though, was the portrayal of therapy. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that quite gets how it feels be told to do breathing exercises while your life is falling apart, or having your therapist truly help you but sometimes say the wrong thing when you’re in a vulnerable state.

There are a few things about Queenie that I feel iffy about – most of which revolving around the character of Cassandra.

There’s a specific coincidence that broke my suspension of disbelief

In a city as big as London, what are the chances of Cassandra and Queenie sleeping with the same Guy, and also those of Guy being the guy’s name, creating the whole miscommunication… eh

I’m also wondering why money-lending was a relevant part of the only Jewish character’s plotline.

Overall, I really liked this, and I’m so glad that Queenie got the ending she deserved. I’m hoping to get more into adult contemporary fiction now – there’s a lot this did that a YA contemporary could have never done in terms of portrayal of mental illness, and I definitely feel like I’m ready to read more stories about adults in the real world.

My rating: ★★★★

Adult · Book review · contemporary

Review: Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn

43199360._sy475_This was suspenseful, intoxicating, queer, and incredibly fucked up; I loved every moment of it.
Bury the Lede is a contemporary graphic novel following Madison, a bisexual Asian-American intern at the newspaper Boston Lede, as she gets drawn into the investigation of a murder that will end up having political implications.

One of the first things to draw me to this book was the art. Stark and beautiful, with a lot of blues, purples, grays – it sets the dark atmosphere right from the beginning, and it’s dynamic and detailed without becoming overwhelming. I loved it before I started to love the story, which – I have to admit – took me a little to warm up to; there are a lot of names I needed to remember to be able to follow this, and during my first read I was somewhat confused (it was also late at night, because I needed to finish this, I needed to know the truth; I was confused but I could tell it was great). However, during my second reread I understood that this was one of the best graphic novels I had ever read.

Books like these remind me how often queer women in media aren’t allowed to be full, flawed human beings. Madison is all of these things, and so is her sometimes-lover Lexi, or the mysterious alleged murderer Dahlia, also queer like so many other side characters. They all choose to pursue what they believe is justice, and to do so, they do some incredibly unethical things. As Madison gets more and more entangled in the case, she finds herself breaking the law multiple times, using people with barely any remorse, and yet the story never treats her like a villain.

Books like Bury the Lede also remind me that portrayals of queer women as sexual beings that are neither predators nor meant to be entertainment for men are not as common as they should be, especially in graphic novels and outside of stories that are specifically meant to be romances. This isn’t in any way a romance, and I loved that about it – and it still has a sex scene between two women on the page, one that is explicit and drawn in a way that cemented my feeling that yes, this was really written with queer women in mind, and not heterosexual men (as most graphic portrayals of queer women are).
It’s a story that portrays queer women engaging in casual sex, having multiple partners, and it’s not fetishizing in the slightest. Madison sleeps with a woman and kisses a man (who is also bisexual) and is in a relationship with neither; about this I also recommend reading the author’s post about bi representation, stereotypes, and who she writes for.

I don’t know if this is meant to have a sequel, but I really hope it does; I want more. More from Madison but also from “Harold”, from Dahlia, even from the reporter of the Trombone.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Content Warnings for: murder (on-page, bloody); talk of suicide that might not be suicide; mentions of pedophilia and people covering for child predators (no on-page sexual abuse); roofied drinks; on-page sex scene.