Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Marginalia by Juno Morrow. (CLASH Books)
“I learn that existing at the margins means always having your legitimacy put into question.”
Reading that sentence again is painful, imagining what a whole swath of people goes through each and every day. Juno Morrow is generous enough to tell her story in Marginalia, giving us her inside account of the search for her gender identity and where she fits into the greater world.
At the start of Marginalia, Morrow talks about how her father had some Filipino in him. This led to Morrow having a darker complexion, resulting in those uncomfortable moments growing up when someone would ask, “What are you?” Complicating this further, depending on what city she was in, there were times she was considered white, and others where she wasn’t. This created a complex relationship with race as she was unable to navigate the intricacies of why people felt compelled to comment. This pushed her further to the margins and it was difficult to find a comfortable place in the world.
Relatively early in her life, her parents split up. She moved to a new city with her mom but visited her dad for months at a time over the summers. It was difficult to spend most of the year with her mom, and then go stay with her dad because he felt it was his duty to instill a sense of masculinity into his child. He’d try to jam all this “manly” stuff in during the months they were together, thinking the reason Juno wasn’t more of a man was because he wasn’t around.
Marginalia is a call to be unafraid of your journey to self-discovery and a powerful first-person account of someone who finds themselves in the margins of our society. These are the stories we need right now, and I hope to see many more, especially from Juno Morrow.
In reality, and maybe if he’d spent more time with her throughout the year, he’d see it had nothing to do with not being around—it was simply who Juno was. Puberty was hard, but it began to reveal some painful truths about who she was and who she wanted to be going forward. The feelings are complicated and raw, and as Morrow goes through and relives them, she’s allowing us to feel them alongside her. We are right there with her when the raw nerves get hit, we’re able to wince with her. It’s impressive how she writes this and is a conduit into what she felt all those years ago.
Marginalia is part memoir, part tell-all, part race studies, and part gender studies. The journey she took is engaging and compelling enough, and it is all further rounded out as she takes these asides to give us a greater context into the history of how the world responded to these changes. It’s truly a history lesson with an emotionally engaging face attached as the driving force behind everything found inside. We empathize with Morrow and walk away feeling educated. This is a story with information that is grossly underrepresented (but, I should add, this could be on me for not actively seeking these stories out, I’d love to hear your recommendations on books I need to read).
There is a push and pull as Juno searches for the identity that fits both in accordance with herself and the way society perceives her. In the end, she embraces the idea that “we shouldn’t be afraid to claim multitudes.” Life is often complex and messy, so why should we be any different? Marginalia is a call to be unafraid of your journey to self-discovery and a powerful first-person account of someone who finds themselves in the margins of our society. These are the stories we need right now, and I hope to see many more, especially from Juno Morrow.