Review: Queen Called Bitch by Waldell Abraham Goode

Queen-Called-BitchRating: 2.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


Recounting a sometimes tumultuous, sometimes confusing adolescence, Goode explores the turns his life has taken and how they have shaped his him. His journey focuses on the angst-filled teenage years—the ones where you begin to realize your parents are real people with real flaws, the ones where you learn who your real friends are, the ones where you realize grand plans don’t always come to fruition, no matter how well you tend them.

Some hardships Goode faces help him grow. The journey he goes through as he comes to terms with his mother’s alcoholism helps strengthen their relationship. Other challenges force him to shift goals. His dedication to helping his good friend, Karen, land the boy of her dreams fizzles away, leaving him backtracking overconfident predictions of a hot summer romance for Karen. Yet each of these experiences offers opportunity. Goode is on a mission to evaluate them and to learn from them. Even in the face of pure tragedy, such as when his father’s fiancee passes away, Goode is constantly vigilant. He sees the people surrounding him, reacts and interacts with each of them. The end goal is to help himself and just maybe help those around him do better next time…because there will be a next time.

So ends the synopsis of this memoir. I chose the book for our Reading Challenge Month, specifically New To Me Author Week. The official blurb for this book sounded so enticing. Quite apart from getting introduced to a new author, the POC main character piqued my interest. In a sea of books featuring caucasian characters (or POC characters written by caucasian authors, which is an essay for another site), I was excited about reading a book featuring a black man written by a black man. Plus, almost everything I’ve read from this publisher has been thoughtful and challenging. All these external elements pointed to a book that I imagined would offer a lot of food for thought.

For this reviewer, however, the actual reading experience was a right disappointment. To be perfectly bitchy about it, Goode’s own words sum up my impression of the book perfectly: trite teen schmaltz. 

First, the writing was a complete turn off. The book is written in stream of consciousness style so it reads like a diary. Unless you’re doing a homage to the Chris Nolan movie Memento, I think stream of consciousness is a style best presented in chronological order. Goode does not keep things organized chronologically and the story telling suffers for it. Instead, the events are very loosely organized by themes. Each chapter has a sort of theme. One of the most memorable examples is the chapter dedicated to Goode’s mother’s alcoholism. This is also one of the better chapters insofar as it stays on topic. To the extent the chapters even have a theme, they usually get lost in the blustery narration.

On top of what I consider weak, disorganized structure is the actual writing itself. The actual words on the page come off looking and reading like a rough draft or just random journal entries, replete with editorial errors. I can only assume the teenage angst as told by a teenager is the whole point of maintaining this presentation—the stream of consciousness, the hyper-contemporary speech patterns, the grammatical and spelling mistakes. However, since there was no structure to support a concrete message, I ended up focusing on the consistent editorial errors. Not a great way to spend some 200 pages of book.

Throughout the book, the reader does get a fantastic look into the teenage years of Waldell Abraham Goode. We learn he’s a black gay teen with a huge chip on his shoulder about Love. Surprisingly, Goode is a compelling figure (yeah, with delusions of grandeur, but he’s all of a teenager and we’ve all been there before). Clearly an over-the-top personality, he still maintains relevancy with some sharp insights. While Goode’s nuggets of wisdom are few and far between, the can be touchingly poignant. For example:

Is [my father] redeemed? Massaging [his dying fiancee’s] feet and cleaning her stool aren’t acts done for admiration; they are performed out of humility and love.

This is even better when you read all about Goode’s father and the issues there.

Another example:

…one of the singular greatest gifts a person in the media can give is lending [a] voice to the voiceless.

Which I find personally meaningful when my grandfather and I were arguing over how important it was that Taylor Swift sued a groper for a buck and won—this embodies perfectly my sentiments about that case.

These few, short, and strikingly concise snippets were the best I found the book has to offer. Because surrounding these few gems are great heaps of faff. Like how the first third or so of the book seems to center on how Goode does not believe he will ever find true love, ergo he is not meant to have love or be loved. Reading this in the diary-esque style of the book just made me want to barf at the fatalism of a literal kid who calls a 26-year-old Grindr hook-up “a graying man nearing thirty.” Or how he describes his writing process and how difficult it can be like this:

And it is a fucking process. I practically need assurance and a steel vagina (I’d say a brass set of balls, but in reality, vaginas have proven much more likely to withstand pain and maintain endurance. For instance, sometime in your life you’ll either hear about, or personally experience, erectile dysfunction. According to WebMD, it is common amongst 5 percent of forty-year-old men and between 15 and 25 percent of men aged sixty-five or older. However, I have yet, in my nineteen years, encountered a woman of any age complaining about her vagina’s inability to open. Which I assume means they’re more reliable as well. Vaginas: they open every time!)

This is typical of Goode’s style in this memoir. We start with a comment about the actual process of writing and end up spending the rest of the entire paragraph comparing dicks to slits. I don’t mind telling you that if I were actually hearing these words coming from a person in my presence, I would have to have words.

If reality TV were a book, it would be this book. Goode guides the reader through pivotal times in his life. At times he is buffeted by those in his life and other times he is bolstered by them. Clearly there are strong emotions at play here and some elements (mostly conveyed through the people who crop up in chapter after chapter) that form a loose shell to guide our narrator. But after reading the whole thing, the style seems to have consumed the substance leaving behind the bitter aftertaste of trite teen schmaltz.

This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for New to Me Author Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a fabulous prize from Riptide Publishing. One winner will win a set of Advanced Review Copies before the books are released (or if it is a non-U.S. winner, an electronic copy of the books upon release). Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on New to Me Author Week here. And be sure to check out our prize post for more details about the awesome prizes!

camille sig

Comments

  1. This kind of thing is why I stay away from memoirs. One past reading challenge I did try out a non-fiction anthology of memoir shorts, and that was rewarding but I think because they didn’t have a whole book to ramble on in. Even though this is not something I would have picked up, I’m still glad to have insight into this. It really is a shame this wasn’t as valuable of a read.

    (P.S. to who it may concern, this isn’t tagged as a Reading Challenge post in the Filed Under section,)

    • Whoops! I think I forgot to tag this for Reading Challenge. (at least I totally mentioned it in the body of the review, eh?)
      Rambling isn’t necessarily a problem. I like Dave Barry stuff and that’s pretty rambly. It was just disappointing to see how each individual episode stays like its own little island, none of them really pointing towards an epiphany or goal or warning.

  2. Thank you for your review. So disappointing when a book just doesn’t meet you expectations.

    • Yeah, it was a bit of a let down. There is so much potential, but the author just didn’t present it in a way that I felt was relatable, sympathetic or empathetic.

  3. Too bad, Camille. The book did not sound that bad to me, but your review does not make it very appealing. I guess I won’t be adding it to my TBR pile!

    • The official blurb of this book sounded so appealing. It was a big letdown to read the thing and feel like it was just so much word salad.

  4. Maybe this is one that might have worked better as an “as told to,” since I think it’s hard to be coherent sometimes when you’re that close to it all…

    • This! On the one hand, memoirs can be powerful ways to convey emotions. On the other hand, it can be hard to convey all that emotion when its felt so strongly.

  5. Thanks for the review, Camille. Don’t think it is my kind of book so I am going to pass.

    • It’s an interesting read in that its a first had account of social issues that have been front and center in American culture lately. It’s just too bad it’s not presented in a very relatable/readable format.

  6. I would have given up quite early on by the sounds of it. I really dislike stream of consciousness and with so many errors and lack of direction, I would have hated this.

    • It was tough to read, but just when I thought I could:t stand it anymore, the author threw in some gems. Like, the kind I could bust out in an argument with my grandpa. But yes, stream of consciousness seems like a difficult medium to execute.

  7. Thanks for the review! Eeep it’s too bad it didn’t meet expectations. I think I’ll pass on this one.

    • This was a hard book about hard subjects, but its style of presentation I think detracted from clearly conveying the author’s message…leaving it more like unedited journal entries. Interesting to read for perspective, but not easy to read.

  8. I’ll be giving this a pass as well. For several reasons.

    • It does give a unique perspective on several social issues that have come to the fore in American culture recently, but the style of the writing made it feel largely inaccessible to me.

  9. Thanks for your thoughtful review, Camille. I always enjoy hearing the good as well as where a book didn’t meet your expectations. I think I’ll be passing on this one.

    • This was a challenging read and it’s too bad the elements in the book didn’t come together better. It sounded like it had so much potential.

  10. Bronwyn Heeley says:

    Ive never been a fan of memoirs and this is from someone who wrote 26 A4 single space diaries in her teens (I stop when I started writing other people’s stories, lol). I think they can come across very…well self-centred which is helerious as that’s what they are about. I know there is a place for them I’m just not the audience 

    • I think it was the presentation of this memoir more so than the content. I appreciated the personal view on the issues the author…writes about, they’re just not presented or organized in a manner than makes them feel like anything more than, well, self-centered journal entries.

  11. Oh dear. I am not one for memoirs because they are often trying to control the narrative and explain their actions to get people on their side or else they actually do think they are more interesting than everyone else.

    • In that regard, then, I would say the author is successful in that he does NOT try to explain his actions or get anyone on his side. The whole work really has a feel of (unedited) journal entries. It focuses on the social issues that the author encounters and especially LGBT issues. I didn’t get the sense the author is trying to be more interesting than anyone, but his over-the-top personalities do bleed through the page (and it hurt the overall experience that these various personalities were never clearly established).

  12. Whoa! I enjoyed the review even if I won’t be enjoying the book. :-)

    • The book is an interesting mix of social issues and personal perspective. The organization of these two elements, however, was lacking so it’s hard to follow. The narrative jumps around and there are long dearths of meaningful content (well, beyond teenage angst, but I guess that’s in the title…so I guess this is the book version of caveat emptor.) 

  13. Purple Reader says:

    Thanks for the review. Please, folks, don’t give up on memoirs – I so happen to also be reading a memoir by a first-for-me author, and I’d highly recommend it: When We Rise, by Cleve Jones. He was prominent in the 70s with Harvey Milk, et al, and later, and it’s an interesting view of glbtq history & the rights movement. Then again, it did win the Lambda this year for best memoir. I related partly b/c I’m his age, but you might give it a try.

  14. I don’t think I will read this book, but I enjoyed your review :-)

    • If you ever get the urge to read what it maybe like in the mind of an overly dramatic teenage boy who suffers life in a small town with a modicum of grace, you may enjoy it. The writing is hard to get over, but there are some gems of wisdom in there.

  15. I read my fair share stream of consciousness style books for uni and it’s not my cup of tea. I’ll pass this book. Thanks for the heads-up and the review.

    • I wonder if its a phase? I know I wrote a stream of consciousness paper in high school once and thought it was golden. I feel tempted to Facebook that teacher and apologize now. Still, the book isn’t *entirely* without merits. From a social issues POV, there are some tough topics in there. It’s just that the poor writing and disorganization muddle the message that the author may be trying to send.

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