OH. MY. GODDESS. Where was this book when I was growing up? I often think about the kids growing up nowadays and I wished I could have escaped the suffocating, heteronormative world I was living in through Juno Dawson’s book.
Not that I am old. I am turning thirty this year but I feel like millennials are in this uncomfortable in-between: can’t quite shake off the engrained boomers/Gen X narratives but crave for more freedom, more liberation, more fluidity.
I am from the Harry Potter generation. I grew up with J.K Rowling's world. I queued at the bookshops for the next volume, dressed up as Hermione for Halloween, watched the very last Harry Potter at the cinema with friends just before graduating with my baccalaureate and moving out from my Mum's to go to university. This last screening felt like a milestone. It felt like a coming of age story. “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman” to quote the one and only Britney Spears. I was coming to terms with who I was as an individual, rather than being the daughter of, the sister of, the friend of.
Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood and adolescence. It shaped me in so many ways.
However - I am not here to do a basic comparison of Juno Dawson's masterpiece with someone who excludes human beings from her fight. But I would like to start this review by saying that: to all the genderqueer fans of Harry Potter, this book is for you.
In Her Majesty's Royal Coven, Juno is reversing J.K Rowling's bigotry by making her main character a trans witch.
In her narrative, Theo is very powerful BECAUSE of the fact she is trans. Her identity makes her almighty. Unbeatable. Unbreakable. To me, it is a beautiful message of hope for genderfluid youth. It is a love letter to anyone who doesn't identify with the binary and the cis oppressive systems we unfortunately still live in.
HMRC follows childhood friends in the “the lesbian capital of the UK”- Hebden Bridge (a quaint North Yorkshire town where Sylvia Plath is buried: now if this doesn’t make you want to move there straight away…) Helena is the coven’s High Priestess, Niamh is the local vet and uses her gifts to heal animals, Leonie started her own coven for witches of colour and Elle is living in total denial trying to lead a suburban life and hides from her husband the fact she’s a witch. Rumors are starting to emerge about a prophecy that will end witchkind… Can we stop for two seconds and speak about this cliffhanger ? Like...what ?? I read this book a while ago but I can still remember when I read the last few sentences. My jaw literally dropped and I thought to myself "Juno.... YOU are THE witch"
Also, what I most like about books, and I know this may sound a bit nerdy, is the acknowledgements.
The acknowledgements are such a delight to read because you realise as a reader (which sometimes feels a bit like a passive act, even though it totally isn't, could dive deeper into this in another piece) that it takes a village to get a book out there in the wild. Obviously, the author is the person who birthes the story, but I love seeing the gratitude towards family, friends, editors, and inspirations. It is very special and interesting.
Juno ends the first tome of her series thanking her readership in a powerful way: "Finally, YOU, dear reader. Coven is derived from the Latin for Convention and that's what we are: a delegation of readers, fans, witches, women and queer people. If this book spoke to you like it did to me, you are my people, and I am yours." This sense of community sends a message of unity in such divisive and dark times.
If you haven’t started reading the series: lucky you. You do not have to wait to read not one, but TWO BOOKS to discover Niamh, Helena, Leonie, Elle, Hollie and Theo’s 90s vibes girl gang stories.
Another thing to be excited about: Juno Dawson announced a few days ago that Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is going to be adapted for TV by the makers of The Crown. Are you ready witches?
Little teaser for second installment of HMRC: In the second volume, The Shadow Cabinet - Juno Dawson weaves societal issues such as misogyny and explores girlhood, toxic relationships and gender-based violence in such relatable ways. Juno uses fiction and more particularly fantasy as a tool to repair division and violence in our own reality. To me, it is also a way to repair, to heal, to go against the constant division we experience within our own community and to show that sisterhood is sacred, and remain undefeated.