A young woman living the dream in London publishing, looking for love and success in the big city but somehow always sliding toward the wrong man, the botched assignment, the last unnecessary cocktail. It’s not hard to understand why Candice Carty-Williams’s Queenie has already earned breathless comparisons to Bridget Jones’s Diary: Both books feature endearingly messy heroines who careen from one bad decision to another and confide in the reader with the familiarity of a best friend — just swap journal entries for WhatsApp group chats.
But while it can’t hurt, of course, to be associated with one of the most beloved literary creations of the past quarter century, the similarities largely end there; Queenie Jenkins is coupled (at least as the story begins), Anglo-Jamaican, and distinctly millennial in her outlook. And she’s less concerned with counting cheese-based calories and units of alcohol than with surviving as a 25-year-old black woman in a world that seems determined to discount, define, or deliberately misunderstand her at every turn.
The first page opens with a pelvic exam, and only gets more intimate from there. As Queenie, a low-level arts writer newly separated from her long-term boyfriend, tries to navigate life as a single woman, she realizes that her ability to cope with men and work and mental health is not nearly as strong as the image she projects. And that the issues of her past — abandonment, instability, physical abuse — are coming up hard against her increasingly unstable present.
Plotwise, Carty-Williams tends toward certain tropes: missed cues, unlikely coincidences. But her unvarnished takes on depression, gentrification, cultural taboos, and casual racism — from the cringey sexual-chocolate puns of OkCupid prospects to the colleague who briskly dismisses “all that Black Lives Matters nonsense” in a meeting — cut to the bone. And her debut reads a lot like its smart, sensitive protagonist: full of flaws and contradictions, and urgently, refreshingly real. B+
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