Katy Massey began Are We Home Yet? as part of her creative writing dissertation for a PhD in life writing. This story about a girl growing up overweight and mixed-race in Thatcher-era Leeds is undeniably unique and necessary. Part of Jacaranda’s historic initiative to publish 20 Black British voices in 2020, Are We Home Yet? is an instant classic that stretches the idea of Black Britishness beyond the London-centric. It is also the unusual story of a half-Black girl growing up in a white household and community where she is, for the most part, alone in navigating what it means to be the racial other. 

With a mystifying Jewish mother and an absent Nigerian father, Massey writes about the boundaries of identity and feeling out of place in predominantly white spaces from her working-class block to the posh boarding school that keeps her out of street trouble. But Massey is also not afraid to write the ways in which race can distort the closest of relationships. For example, she recounts an incident in which her mother jokingly calls her a monkey and her white brothers laugh. Though she has edited an anthology featuring mixed-race stories and names such as Bernardine Evaristo titled Tangled Roots, there remains, however, an irking sense of withholding and while hinted at, this crucial element of Are We Home Yet? is never fully or satisfactorily explored.

“It is Massey’s resounding voice and writing prowess that makes this vitally important memoir about a mixed-race, working-class Northern girl remarkable.”

What she does thoroughly investigate is the traumatising experience of witnessing her mother pay for her schooling by doing sex work out of their living room and running a brothel pretending to be a massage parlour called Aristotle. When a young Massey unwittingly stumbles upon this discovery after coming home from school, she must come to terms with the sudden loss of her childlike innocence. Organising the main story around this defining moment in her life, Massey weaves a vignette-like narrative that builds up to a thundering tour de force in which her mother sits down to tell her own personal history.

While the itinerant narrative structure sometimes runs away with itself, Massey’s prose is distinguished and ripe with lyrical delights that make for a heartening read. Watching it grapple with the fallibility of memory and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves is an exquisite experience. In fact, this might be one of the memoir’s most enduring qualities: the narrative voice exhibits a rare blend of authenticity and self-awareness that inspires complete trust. It is Massey’s resounding voice and writing prowess that makes this vitally important memoir about a mixed-race, working-class Northern girl remarkable.

By Jane Link

JANE LINK is a master’s student and an editor for Split Lip MagazineThe Publishing Post, and her own beloved bigblackbooks. When not trying to land her first job in publishing, Jane loves to read historical fiction, self-help, and everything by Black voices. She dreams of one day setting up an independent dedicated to publishing those voices. You can find her @verybookishjane on Twitter.

KATY MASSEY was a journalist for fifteen years before returning to university and beginning to write creatively. Her PhD findings formed the inspiration for Tangled Roots, a long-term project aiming to equip everyone with the skills to author their own lives. Her life writing and fiction has been shortlisted for several prizes including the Jhalak Prize 2021 and Leeds Literature Prize 2013. You can find her @TangledRoots1 on Twitter or on her website.

Katy Massey debuts with a memoir about growing up mixed-race in Thatcher-era LeedsAre We Home Yet? by Katy Massey
Published by Jacaranda on 10 Sep 2020
Genres: Memoir, Coming-of-age, Black British, Feminism, Debut
Pages: 254
Format: Paperback
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three-half-stars

Spanning the years from 1935 to 2010, Are We Home Yet? is the moving and funny story of a girl and her mother. As a girl, Katy accidentally discovers her mother is earning money as a sex worker at the family home, rupturing their bond. As an adult, Katy contends with grief and mental health challenges before she and her mother attempt to heal their relationship. From Canada, to Leeds and Jamaica, and exploring shame, immigration and class, the pair share their stories but struggle to understand each other’s choices in a fast-changing world. By revealing their truths, can these two strong women call a truce on their hostilities and overcome the oppressive ghosts of the past?