Are You Read-Y for This?

My first book club meet, “Are You Read-y for This?” and why I loved it

A good friend of mine, someone I met through work, and who I’ve never met in person, but who I hugely admire and respect because of our shared passion for racial equality and self-education, attended a virtual book club to discuss Candice Carty-Williams’ Booker Prize Winner, Queenie. Follow this fantastic author here https://twitter.com/CandiceC_W.

I was genuinely shocked to hear about her experience. As the only black person there, which isn’t uncommon, she found it particularly hard to hear the group’s shared consensus that they didn’t enjoy the book because they couldn’t relate to it.

I can hear the gasps of frustration as I type this!

I know, I know….surely the point of reading a book to is experience something from another’s point of view, to go into a different place, to experience something new.

So why is race such a barrier? When we can read books set in fantasy lands, or hundreds of years ago, or from the point of view of kings and queens…..why can’t we get past race?

Spurred on by the disappointment and frustration of this experience, I set up a book club to focus only on books from a non-mainstream point of view. Attended by a handful of friends who I knew would be up for a really good chin wag, and who celebrate diversity in all its forms, I was excited.

I’d tried to open up discussions on race and had the door politely but firmly closed in my face. I’d felt let down by people I admired and respected because of their reaction or lack of reaction to current events. I’d felt overwhelmed. I’d felt on my own. I’d felt hugely intimidated by the strength of feeling I was experiencing. This small act of discussing a book written by a Black author gave me a lift – it gave me back the energy to keep going, to keep learning and keep striving to make a difference.

We had a great time!! I felt brilliant afterwards. It was just to good to chat about the book, about the questions it throws up, about assumptions, prejudice, personal experiences. If far from a comfortable book, with some real challenges to face into about society, mental health, young women and race, but opening up to those subjects it so important. Sharing and learning go hand in hand, especially when you take yourself out of your comfort zone. But I found it important to be with a group of people I trusted, because it’s not easy to open up. But the more we do, the more we learn, and the more comfortable we become to take these discussions wider, and to start making a difference I our communities and wider society.

As for the book itself – the pinnacle of the evening – I really, really, REALLY enjoyed reading it.

Hot girl in her twenties, single in London after a (it is or isn’t it?) breakup, making some bad choices. That’s the surface level, page turner, great read.

But there’s so much more to it than that.

Queenie is a rich character – God, she’s frustrating, why can’t she just pull herself together and stop messing around at work and going on dates with losers? But she’s so loveable – sassy, witty and vulnerable – from the very beginning. As we learn more about her, through her narrative, her text chat with her friends and the gradual unraveling of her history, we realise how complex her experience is. Objectified for her curves and skin colour, we can barely read about some of her interactions with men; abused as a child through bullying and neglect (the vicious circle of abusive families is demonstrated here); torn between twenty first century millennial thinking and proud, traditional Jamaican views, it’s no wonder Queenie shatters into a thousand pieces before she starts to mend.

I won’t give anymore away – no spoilers from me – but I thoroughly recommend reading it. I also recommend having a good old chin wag with your friends about it too.

For more reviews on Queenie, check out some of these links below. And if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear what you thought.

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/candice-carty-williams/queenie-carty-williams/

https://booksinthemedia.thebookseller.com/reviews/queenie

Our next book is Dominicana by Angie Cruz.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43263696-dominicana

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