My introduction to reading began when I was 15-years-old, reading (mostly One Direction) fanfiction on Wattpad. And in an attempt to keep fueling my addiction to romantic narratives, I then shifted my focus from fanfiction to Young adult and romantic comedy novels. Notably, however, one thing that was apparent in the stories I read (whether fanfiction or otherwise)— the heroines were always white.
This could have been due to my own lack of knowledge surrounding whatever diversity existed in the rom-com/YA genre, or there just weren’t many protagonists that looked like me or stories that mirrored my own sitting on bookshelves when I was a teenager.
That’s why Joya Goffney’s debut novel titled Excuse me while I ugly cry was a refreshing read for me that fulfilled my long-time affection for love stories (both self and romantic) while also providing me with narratives and characters I could deeply relate to.
Namely, the novel illustrates a compelling coming-of-age story that showcases the hardships Black girls in predominantly white communities often experience. The book does this using Quinn, the story’s protagonist, a high school senior who lives her life perpetually writing lists in her private but not-so-secure journal.
Due to this last point, an anonymous person(s) steals said journal and threatens to expose the secrets Quinn has housed there. Secrets such as “Things I would never admit out loud” and “Things to do before I graduate.” Consequently, the anonymous blackmailer now has complete ammo to expose Quinn to all who know her in more ways than one.
So on a journey to get her journal back, Quinn must team up with some unlikely allies to discover who in her school has a big enough vendetta against her to sabotage her this way. This quest of sorts takes Quinn on a much-needed journey towards finding her confidence, finding genuine and reliable companionships, learning the importance of advocating for herself, and having the vulnerability to explore life outside of her comfort zone.
Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry showcases storylines and characters that examine a side to Black girlhood many people don’t often see. This book transported me back to what it was like to be a young Black girl trying to simultaneously navigate life, dating, and friendships as best she could while living in a predominantly non-Black community.
Like me, Quinn was tasked to do the same. There’s a unique experience that accompanies Black girlhood when you’re one of few Black students in your school, and Joya nails the feelings of isolation, loneliness, of being misunderstood, or even misunderstanding others who also look like you. And Quinn was the perfect, imperfect protagonist to portray those challenges.
Quinn’s financial privilege and tokenism from her white friends mean she must unlearn the internalized racism she’s held throughout her childhood. Quinn must open herself to friendships that are mutual and supportive rather than settling for friends who constantly ‘other’ her due to her Blackness. And Quinn must let go of a fruitless childhood crush and instead allow herself to be loved by someone capable of truly loving her back.
I appreciate Joya’s decision to have Quinn be romantically involved with a Black partner, one who she doesn’t have to conform parts of herself to be with. It was significant for Quinn’s character arc to disregard whatever preconceived notions she held for Carter and let her guard come down for him. As he understands her plight perhaps more than she even realizes.
In an exclusive interview with The Tempest, Joya Goffney stated how as she got older, she began to read books more critically compared to when she was growing up. Like me, Joya grew to be disappointed in the lack of diversity within the stories she read, so she sought to contribute what was a much-needed change within the YA genre as a writer herself.
In response to Quinn and Carter’s budding romance in the novel, especially given the two of them being some of the few Black kids at their high school, Joya stated during our interview, “At the start of writing this story, I wanted a love story between a Black boy and a Back girl. I hadn’t really seen a lot of [those kinds of love stories in the past]. [And since] so much of the story deals with [Quinn’s] race and the microaggressions that she experiences, it was important that [Carter] was Black so he could relate to [Quinn’s] experiences [attending a predominantly white school].”
Not only do I welcome the diversity within the novel, I deeply appreciate Joya’s examinations of other themes like internalized racism and racial microaggressions that so many young Black kids have to unlearn or learn to fight against.
As a result, many Black girls picking up this book who are familiar with being one of few Black girls in an environment that not only doesn’t look like you but actively reminds you of your otherness will feel seen given many of the themes discussed in the novel. Hopefully, given the love that Quinn finds in herself, her new friendships, and her new significant other, Black girls can know it’s possible to find such loves without compromising themselves or settling for people who don’t put in the work to understand them.
All in all, Porshèa Patterson-Hurst accurately sums up the greatness of Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry for Black Girl’s Create stating, “Joya Goffney has crafted a novel that examines the ways that we learn to protect ourselves as teenagers, the ways we hide all the vulnerabilities we would hate having used against us, by showing the ramifications of this exact event in Quinn’s life.”
In recent years, the YA genre has seen an influx of diverse narratives, and thankfully Excuse me while I ugly cry perfectly adds to the diversity that currently exists in the genre, while also providing readers with an added perspective to marginalized characters readers don’t normally see. For that, I’m so grateful for this novel.
In our interview together, Joya teased that she has even more stories in the works. In turn, we will all be on the edge of our seats, waiting for whatever new project Joya decides to drop next!
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