Juliet Takes A Breath
by Gabby Rivera
Juliet Milagros Palante is a self-proclaimed closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx. Only, she’s not so closeted anymore. Not after coming out to her family the night before flying to Portland, Oregon, to intern with her favorite feminist writer–what’s sure to be a life-changing experience. And when Juliet’s coming out crashes and burns, she’s not sure her mom will ever speak to her again.
But Juliet has a plan–sort of. Her internship with legendary author Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff, is sure to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. Except Harlowe’s white. And not from the Bronx. And she definitely doesn’t have all the answers . . .
In a summer bursting with queer brown dance parties, a sexy fling with a motorcycling librarian, and intense explorations of race and identity, Juliet learns what it means to come out–to the world, to her family, to herself.
Release Date : Hardcover, September 17, 2019 – Available Now
Gabby Rivera is a Bronx-born queer Latinx babe on a mission to create the wildest, most fun stories ever. She’s the first Latina to write for Marvel comics, penning the solo series AMERICA about America Chavez, a portal-punching queer Latina powerhouse. In 2017, Gabby was named one of the top comic creators by the SyFy network, and one of NBC’s #Pride30 Innovators. Gabby now makes magic on both coasts, currently residing in California. She writes for all the sweet baby queers and her mom.
Juliet Takes A Breath is a contemporary YA stand-alone taking place in the early 2000s. Juliet is a young feminist latina who has just introduced massive changes to her life. Within the first couple chapters she’s come out as lesbian to her family and moved from her diverse home (The Bronx) to Portland, Oregon to be mentored to a popular feminist writer, Harlowe Brisbane.
Throughout the book we see passages from Harlowe’s feminist self-help book. Juliet, embarking on a road of self discovery, is eager to explore and embrace all sides of her identity- even though the intersections of these often become an issue. In The Bronx she faced homophobia, in largely white Portland she faces racist micro-aggressions. Juliet’s understanding of herself and other people evolve a lot across the course of this narrative.
I really appreciated how this title had a number of fantastic and thought-provoking adult characters. This is a title that can appeal to young adults AND adults, but remains thoughtfully devoted to Juliet’s point of view. I really liked how the adults were also capable of missteps, and the reader seems encouraged to meaningfully question authority figures when they are out of touch.
What really got my attention in this book was Juliet herself. She’s a very frank and inquisitive character. At first I found her a bit childish and off-putting, but before long I was swept into her psyche and world, bonding quickly with the characterization.
While I liked this book from the start, it’s really one that grows and gets better from chapter to chapter. The dialogue is in-depth yet natural, with several passages worth highlighting and moments that are strikingly relevant. At many turns, conversations between characters had me feeling strongly.
The writing style makes it easy to get directly into Juliet’s head, the prose reads like a diary revealing innermost thoughts in a no-holds-barred way. While this book has many useful thoughts on sexism, racism, and homophobia; it is by no means a beginners guide or out to coax dissenters into changing their position. If you’re looking for a very gentle introduction to these themes, there are probably more suitable options out there.
Juliet’s voice radiating energy, openness, gusto, and confidence. She meets people who have bright and insightful things to say that aid in the growth of her self image. The ways she navigates her life and especially the way she talks to herself came off as over-the-top at first but I found these little statements increasingly empowering to read about. I often left reading sessions of this book feeling like I just got back from a trip to my 18 year old self and unraveled various tangles of ignorance. The climax and ending have some of the most important snippets of dialogue I’ve come across in YA.
While I only relate (in part) to a few of the difficulties faced by Juliet, its taken years to process the tolls taken on self esteem and identity. Growing up, I had rarely read #ownvoices books like these. They were deep within the margins and prominently under-represented, or written in a less attached way by people outside of those margins. It really cannot be understated how important it is for books like this to spread, and the positive force they can be in people’s lives.
I want to talk about so many things that happened in this book but my aims are for this review to be spoiler-free. But I am going to talk about Maxine, without revealing much. In short, Maxine is the girlfriend of Juliet’s mentor, Harlowe. At first, I thought Maxine was being too hard on Harlowe when they would discuss race. I thought the character was not very likable. Let me just say, upon finishing this book, Maxine is one of the best characters. Toward the end she has THE BEST dialogue in the book. I need to photocopy this one particular page with a conversation between she and Juliet and put it on my wall. It would be great to get a time machine to take that page to my 18 year-old self, who never had but very much needed a Maxine in her life to get her head on straight and instill thoughtfulness and bravery much earlier. I mentioned this before and I’ll close on this note again, this book is important and there are people who stand to gain so much from reading it.
Overall Rating – 10/10
Why You Should Try It – I thought Juliet was OK, then likable, then lovable. She grows and evolves, and is a fantastically formed character by book’s end. The overall vibe of this title is vibrant, realistic, and inspires energy and self-love. There are many moments of fantastic and highlight-worthy character dialogue. The friendships, relationships, and interactions are heartfelt and well-conveyed.
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Disclosure : I received an ARC (uncorrected proof) of Juliet Takes A Breath from @PenguinTeen as part of this blog tour.