The Queens of New York | E. L. Shen


The Queens of New York by E.L. Shen

Out now from Quill Tree Books; 336 pages

Content Warning: Racism, racial stereotypes, microaggressions, death of a sibling, grief, strong language, underage drinking, discussions of immigration 

About the Author: “E. L. Shen is a writer and editor living in New York City. Her debut middle grade novel, The Comeback (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers) is a Junior Library Guild Selection, received two starred reviews, and was praised for its “fast-paced prose, big emotions, and authentic dialogue” in The New York Times. Her forthcoming young adult novel, The Queens of New York (Quill Tree Books) was won in a six-figure preempt and is scheduled to publish in Summer 2023. 

E.L. received her Bachelor of Arts from Barnard College of Columbia University, where she majored in English with a concentration in creative writing. When she is not dreaming up fictional worlds, she can be found stress-baking, figure skating, singing show tunes, and eating too much chocolate” (Bio from author’s website).

Find E.L. Shen on the following platforms:

“The summers are special. The summers are for us.”

Jia, Ariel, and Everett share everything, especially during their magical summers. This summer is different, though. Jia is home caring for her sick grandmother and helping at her family’s dumpling restaurant; Ariel is across the country at a pre-college program in California; Everett has landed a spot in a prestigious theatre camp in Ohio. As the summer goes on, the girls navigate family obligations, deal with grief, and face the realities of racism and ignorance. Though they are spread apart, texts, emails, and video calls keep Jia, Ariel, and Everett’s friendship as strong as ever. 

The best part of E.L. Shen’s YA debut is her poetic writing that elevates the emotions and world of the book. My favorite example of this is in Ariel’s chapters. Ariel is dealing with the death of her sister, and Shen’s portrayal of Ariel’s grief beautifully describes how loss feels. Shen’s poetic style also translates in Jia and Everett’s chapters, from descriptions of mouth-watering food to atmospheric parties. I also appreciate that each girl had their own distinct summer adventures and conflicts: Jia balancing a budding romance with her family obligations, Ariel taking action to heal and cope with her grief, and Everett finding herself in an incredibly racist musical production. However, the 300-something pages were not enough to develop each girl’s storyline. Because we jump back and forth between characters so frequently, the rapid pace of the book resulted in hastily thrown-together relationships and conflicts. Jia’s romance with Akil and tension with her family felt rushed and superficial, despite being a huge part of her character growth. Ariel’s transition from being consumed by her grief to suddenly traveling to South Korea to find closure was abrupt, though Ariel’s storyline was probably the most developed. The most frustrating conflict for me was Everett’s plotline with the blatantly racist production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. We read chapters of white characters speaking in exaggerated, stereotypical Chinese accents and see Everett endure a dozen microaggressions, just for her breakthrough moment of “calling out racism” to be a hastily-described TikTok about her experience. Each girl’s story ultimately ends on a positive and uplifting note, but I wanted more depth and page time for each girl’s arc. My frustration with the book is definitely not the majority opinion when compared to other reviews. A lot of readers really liked The Queens of New York, so maybe I just didn’t have the right mindset going into this book. If you go into The Queens of New York expecting a fast-paced read with a happy ending, you might not be disappointed.

(Pine Reads Review would like to thank SparkPoint Studio for sending us a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change upon final publication.)

PRR Assistant Director, Erika Brittain