ARCs Book Reviews

ARC Review: Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture by Zeba Blay

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Thank you St. Martin’s Griffin and NetGalley for the eARC to read and review! Carefree Black Girls is set to be released October 19, 2021.

Image via NetGalley

Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆
Recommend to Others?: Yes

ABOUT: An empowering and celebratory portrait of Black women—from Josephine Baker to Aunt Viv to Cardi B.

In 2013, film and culture critic Zeba Blay was one of the first people to coin the viral term #carefreeblackgirls on Twitter. As she says, it was “a way to carve out a space of celebration and freedom for Black women online.”

In this collection of essays, Carefree Black Girls, Blay expands on this initial idea by delving into the work and lasting achievements of influential Black women in American culture–writers, artists, actresses, dancers, hip-hop stars–whose contributions often come in the face of bigotry, misogyny, and stereotypes. Blay celebrates the strength and fortitude of these Black women, while also examining the many stereotypes and rigid identities that have clung to them. In writing that is both luminous and sharp, expansive and intimate, Blay seeks a path forward to a culture and society in which Black women and their art are appreciated and celebrated.


My Review: Nonfiction is a genre way outside my comfort zone. Essays I am familiar with, but pop culture…uh, not so much.

I’ve never reviewed a collection of essays before so bear with me while I try to compile my thoughts into something organized and coherent.

Carefree Black Girls is comprised of an introduction and 8 essays:

  • Body: The historical perception and misuse of Black women’s bodies and its negative, harmful impact.
  • She’s A Freak: The regulation of Black women’s bodies and their sexuality. The backlash over any agency exerted that goes against those regulations.
    Man, This Shit Is Draining: Black women don’t have the freedom to express their anger with repercussions compared to others who do the same or worse.
  • Extra Black: Colorism and its correlation to beauty, desirability, and marketability of lighter skin tones versus darker skin tones, such as in Hollywood castings.
  • #Cardibissoproblematic: The author’s feelings about Cardi B, her fame, her place in pop culture, her words and actions, and her feud with Nicki Minaj.
  • Girlhood: The images of Black women that left an impression on the author growing up versus what she knows now of the realities those images represented. The author’s feelings of recognition towards Mel B and how Mel B navigated spaces not meant for people like her.
  • Strong Black Lead: Black women and mental health as well as the author’s struggles with her own mental health. (CW: anxiety, depression, suicide – 24/7 resources below)
  • Free of Cares: What does it mean for Black women to be carefree? and the concept of freedom.

These were very well-written essays with enviable poise, details, structure, clarity, and sureness that I wish I’d had even a speck of whenever I had to write essays in school. Each essay focused on an idea that was heavily reinforced by a ton of source material – interviews, books, essays, artwork, movies, songs lyrics, tweets, Instagram stories, speeches, and so much more. Even when I didn’t know what the author was referencing – like with some Twitter happenings or much of the Cardi B essay – I could still more or less grasp the point she was trying to make. She makes a lot of compelling arguments and states the sad but real truths that tend to be ignored, glossed over or outright dismissed.

Carefree Black Girls is raw and thought-provoking. It discussed truths about the struggles and hardships Black women are still subjected. I liked how the author wove in her own experiences – as hard as some of those still are to talk about – to illustrate her points. Not always as the 100% proof but as personal examples and perspective of how she came to certain conclusions.

The book is very engaging. I felt various emotions while reading it. For me, there were several moments of retrospection and introspection. Parts of others I saw myself in. But there also were a few parts I wasn’t too sure about or disagreed with to varying degrees.

Carefree Black Girls had a solid structure, was vividly detailed, and had a strong voice. The topics were relevant to the past, present, and future of our world and who we are as people. Overall, a good read.

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