Book: Juliet Takes a Breath
Author: Gabby Rivera
My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads Summary: “Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.
Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?
With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.”
Y’all, I LOVED this book. I’ve heard good things about it ever since it came out last year and it’s been on my TBR forever. I was perusing Netgalley and noticed that it was still available to request and I just felt like I needed to read it immediately. Fast-forward to a few nights ago and I find myself devouring it in one sitting late into the night. Juliet feels like such an authentic character and I adored her. Her journey traveling across the country to intern for her favorite author and learn more about what being a lesbian means was a wonderful story with some big life lessons.
I enjoyed seeing Portland through Juliet’s eyes and laughed so hard I cried at times. I also really enjoyed Juliet’s interest in and the lessons she learned from researching the women assigned to her by Harlowe. Honestly, this part of her summer internship sounded like a dream to me. Spending all day in the library researching badass women and talking about them? Sign me up! And being pursued by a hot lady biker librarian? 😍
I also really loved Juliet’s family. Even though one or two of them had a hard time accepting her in the beginning after she came out, they were very close and loving (for the most part). Her aunts and cousins were pretty awesome and supportive as well – so many fantastic female characters in this novel! And her younger brother was so sweet and adorable! I hope he’s doing okay (maybe we’ll get a sequel one day and found out!!!).
The awesome feminists of color Juliet meets in Portland were some of my favorite parts of this book. They were badass, wonderful teachers to Juliet and called out privileged white women and their so-called “feminism” when they saw it!
Even though I would never have the guts to write my favorite author and beg for a meeting, I couldn’t help but laugh at (and admire) Juliet for her gumption. And I can see why Juliet admires Harlowe so much – I loved some of her book passages that Juliet refers to. And to someone who is just starting to explore feminism and what being a feminist means, Harlowe’s work would seem very empowering. I had similar moments myself in college when really starting to explore feminism and where I fit. But, as Juliet soon realizes, feminism does not mean the same thing to everyone. And people can sound very enlightened and accepting even when they still have a lot of work to do on their intersectionality and white privilege.
*spoiler ahead -warning*
When Harlowe pulled her “my intern is a poor woman of color from the hood” justification, my heart hurt for Juliet. And although I don’t recall an instance that was this public or this openly awful, I have had similar moments in my life with people who thought they understood something that they clearly did not. Rivera did such a fantastic job of demonstrating the wide range of emotions one might have in such an experience – the shock and feeling of betrayal, the temptation to blame yourself and assume that you somehow gave the wrong impression, and the need to talk it through. I remember an instance in which a colleague in my graduate program heard I was from the rez and started making such a big deal that I “got out” and “actually went to school.” I’m sure she thought she was playing me a compliment and thought that she knew what she was talking about because her church would volunteer on a nearby reservation in the summertime. 😒 And part of me wanted to say “thank you, it has been really hard at times to do this coming from where I’m from” even though I knew that wasn’t really right. And that she didn’t understand whatever she thought she did. And that she clearly didn’t see all of the wonderful parts about where I was from and who my people are. The other part of me wanted to yell at this privileged white chick was presumed to know me, my experiences and my people, in such a condescending way. Whew. Okay, I’ll stop making this about me which I really wasn’t trying to do. I was just trying to demonstrate why I loved and related to this specific part of the book so much. This part was so spot-on I wanted to cry. I also wanted to cry for Juliet because IT SUCKS so bad to have to learn these lessons. Don’t look up to anyone folks – they’ll just let you down in some way. Right? Is my cynical side showing again? Oops….
Overall, a fantastic novel. One that I will read and reread often. ❤
*I received this for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the publisher, Riverdale Ave Books, for the opportunity. Now I’m off to buy a zillion copies!*