Review: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

FINALLY- A book with likeable characters, great person of colour representation, queerness, feminism…and it’s brilliantly written with a super heartwarming story that’ll suck you in so you can’t put it down. Brilliant!

Juliet Takes a Breath is the coming-of-age story of Juliet Palante, a Puerto Rican teenager who lives in the Bronx with her madcap family. She discovers feminism through the book ‘Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy By Empowering Your Mind’ by Harper Brisbane (which she reads to freak people out on the subway) and, after writing to the author to tell her how much she enjoyed it (despite not really recognising herself in the text) lands an internship to help Harper research her next book. Moving to Portland, Oregon gives Juliet a total culture shock and living with Harper exposes her to a completely different way of life. She uses the opportunity to learn about being gay, being a person of colour, being female and being a feminist, all whilst trying to figure out who she is and trying to get her family to accept her. Nothing major then.

I really loved reading this book. There’s such great, positive representation and a brilliantly written story which taught me so much about other cultures, history, oppression, feminism, my own body… I could go on. It’s really well written, interesting, funny and sweet without being overly saccharine or having a happily ever after ending that ends up in so much current YA literature.   

I loved the main character Juliet, who was bold and strong but also scared and vulnerable at times. She felt very ‘real’ to me and despite our many differences I identified with her as a chubby, queer nerd girl who finds safety in the confines of a library. Her family members were all amazing, especially her brother cousin and aunt and I loved reading about how close they all were and supported each other no matter what.

I initially really liked Harper, the hippy writer who acted as a kind of queer feminist Yoda to aid Juliet in her voyage of discovery, but my opinion of her changed as the book went on. I loved the way that the two characters were so different and the way that Harper exposed Juliet to so many new experiences, but I hated the way that she made so many assumptions about Juliet and in the end I thought she was actually quite self centered.

Through Juliet’s journey (literally and figuratively) the reader gets to learn so much about topics that you were afraid to ask about – from periods to polygamous relationships to white privilege. Every topic is handled sensitively and the writing is never preachy, only informative. 

There is an awful lot in the book about racism and the differences between being a white feminist lesbian and a person of colour feminist lesbian which I hadn’t really considered before. I’m not sure if this is my white privilege or because I’m British but I’m not used to people talking about their race all the time or referring to themselves expressly by their heritage. Some of the ideas discussed made me a little uncomfortable, like a racist slur said about Juliet’s white girlfriend and a POC only party but through the character of Juliet the ideas are often questioned and both the positives and negatives are discussed. 

Because the main character is Latino it was really interesting to view feminism and lesbianism through her eyes – how it fitted in with her religion, her traditional family, her views on men, her experience of privilege, her sense of self etc. This was a viewpoint that I hadn’t read from before and I thought it was executed brilliantly.

My only criticisms of the novel would be that I think it’s a little unrealistic for almost every character that Juliet encounters or knows to be gay and that perhaps a few straight people would have added another dynamic. I also felt that the negative way in which every white person was portrayed was a little unfair – although heaven knows there’s enough books out there where the only black character is a villain/token gesture/non-existent so maybe the author was just trying to redress the balance.

Overall I loved reading this book and would recommend it to anyone looking to explore feminism and queerness from a different perspective, or just anyone looking for some great intersectional YA.

Overall rating: 8/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #14 Read a book involving travel.

 

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