Review: The Black Queen by Jumata Emill

Summary: Nova Albright, the first Black homecoming queen at Lovett High, is dead. Murdered the night of her coronation, her body found the next morning in the old slave cemetery she spent her weekends rehabilitating. Tinsley McArthur was supposed to be queen. Not only is she beautiful, wealthy, and white, it’s her legacy. Everyone in Lovett knows Tinsley would do anything to carry on the McArthur tradition.

No one is more certain of that than Duchess Simmons, Nova’s best friend. Duchess’s father is the first Black police captain in Lovett. For Duchess, Nova’s crown was more than just a win for Nova. It was a win for all the Black kids. Now her best friend is dead, and her father won’t face the fact that the main suspect is right in front of him. Duchess is convinced that Tinsley killed Nova–and that Tinsley is privileged enough to think she can get away with it. Duchess is determined to prove Tinsley’s guilt. And to do that, she’ll have to get close to her. But Tinsley has an agenda, too.

Genre: mystery, young adult
Rating: ★★★

The cover of this book had me hooked when I saw it a few months prior to release, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I loved the idea of a YA thriller about a friend seeking justice for her Black friend who was murdered. However, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book.

The story is about Nova, who is crowned homecoming queen only to wind up dead mere hours later. But Nova gets lost in the story, as it follows both Nova’s best friend and the token mean white girl who thought the title should have gone to her instead. Both of these characters had strong personalities, which I enjoyed, but they overshadowed Nova. For the girl who is on the cover of the book, she’s not talked about nearly as much as I was expecting. There’s even a point where Nova’s friend is preparing a speech for Nova’s funeral, but none of the funeral is covered and her speech is summarized into a few sentences afterward.

The book focuses more on the mystery aspect, and usually I love that, but there was so much unnecessary drama dogpiled into the mix. The girls discover a lot of big town secrets, but I didn’t care about any of the small subplots, and they just barely scratched the surface of how they were related to Nova’s death. There are some twists that you’ll see coming from a mile away because they’re hinted at throughout the novel, but I was pleasantly surprised that they still weren’t quite what I was expecting.

I also loved how educational this book felt in terms of social and racial issues. I think it’s a great book for non-POC young adult readers who are maybe looking for more education on these topics, and I can see why the author thought to include them. Nova’s best friend is unapologetically loud on these topics, and again, it’s something I would usually appreciate in a story – however, eventually this story turns into how the token white girl no longer sees color, or whatever, and she’s reformed and believes in Black rights. Making a redemption arc for the basic white girl who bullies everyone in school for not being as pretty and popular as her was not something I was interested in reading. I appreciate that it showed growth in a character who seemed impossible to change, but it wasn’t what I expected or hoped for from the story.

Also, I don’t know that it should have taken a white girl being framed for the murder of a Black classmate to acknowledge that she was adhering to systemic racism.

This book is so, so close to being great. The concept was intriguing, and I was invested to see how everything fell together, but it tried too hard to include too many different pieces and ultimately fell flat for me. I think this is another instance of me not being the targeted demographic, because I can see readers enjoying this.

4 thoughts on “Review: The Black Queen by Jumata Emill

      1. That doesn’t surprise me.. I know myself and a handful of others couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. Now I wonder if it’ll just be another ‘trending’ read.


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