BOOK REVIEW: ‘A Working-Class Family Ages Badly’ by Juno Roche

September 15, 2022

Juno Roche is a writer and campaigner on gender, sexuality and trans lives, and here has gifted us this breath-taking collection of essays which gamble around a range of subjects brought into strong mutual focus by Roche’s lived experience.

The overall affect is to challenge lazy ideas about what it means to be human in our demanding overly complex world; where only real hard honest work to uncover the truths of ourselves can offer any hope of redemption from a society which conspired to trap us, like traps in a trap.

The essays share a passion for fairness, and by contrasting and comparing modern day events with their own working-class history and a forensic analysis of how class struggle impacts family life, uncover a conflation of values which bind the stories together. That might sound heavy but you’ll be too captivated by the storytelling to worry about what you’re learning.

Juno Roche

Some people live a lot in their short lives, Roche has outlived a lot too. In this disarming but charming memoir, Roche shares beautifully crafted stories of wretched experiences shot through with the brilliance of hope, love, and flashes of potential.

There’s a tangible sense of time and place in the books; working class Peckham, dodgy arty Brighton, drugged up messiness on the Nile, salvation in Spain, time spent unexpectedly with a mother because of the pandemic – the prose opening windows into a traumatic past through small gestures and observations.

A sentence or two gives a whole back story, a comma gives insight, a reflection shared offering a re-assessment of trauma and painful memories in the comfort of a well-worn safe place. More than once I felt the tears come before being made to smile by the raw swift wit laid like flowers between the hard spaces.

Roche knows how to tell a story with heart and heft, but also how to use a narrative to steer us towards being thoughtful and understanding. This is writing that takes us somewhere, sometimes through a shockingly forthright landscape. That’s a rare talent, one that they’re modest about.

We’re offered up moments, captured in their minds eye, held up, turned in the light, reflections, refractions, thoughts playing off the shiny surfaces that memory buffs smooth with use. What feels profound is gleefully teased, and a hard won bauble of truth is tossed our way with a supporting wave of laughter.

Roche takes a huge risk in being so honest, but it pays off, the utter candid brutality of their personal narrative, wrapped up in the tenderly weighted prose combines to allow some hard knocks to land safety on the reader’s eyes. It’s part of the charm of Roche to write with such beauty and panache on subjects which have a core of ugly truth, perhaps there’s some softening of brutality by telling it well or allowing those of us lucky enough to have been shielded from some of life’s slings and arrows to understand the compelling demented pressures of early exposure to family violence cascading down the generations and addictions can have on a person, and the things which drive them, sometimes over the edge.

As they sit in the comfort of a beautiful home, made sun kissed sanctuary by hard work, patience and self-forgiveness, Roche teaches us a lesson. It’s one queer folk know well, but it’s told here with warmth and humour that makes the lesson fresh, urgent, and compelling. That we aren’t condemned by our beginnings; that we have agency over our lives if we dare to take it; that being bold and open to love is hard but worth it, radical forgiveness can free us and that always, always laugh as that gives meaning to each waking day and makes our struggles worth it.

This book is a sublime study in being gloriously resolutely queer; defining success by waking each day to sense of gratitude and understanding our ability to change, it’s also very, very funny.

Out Now, £18.99

For more info or to order the book, CLICK HERE.

Juno is also taking part in the Coast is Queer 2022. To learn more about Juno Dawson’s Lovely Trans Literary Salon with Travis Alabanza