Title: Juliet takes a breath
Author: Gabby Rivera
Publisher: Riverdale Avenue Books
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.
My spoiler-free review:
|This book is a beautiful journey through, feminism, queerness and race, what it means to be a person and how that grows and shifts in the world we live in.
This journey starts with a young latina lesbian who has only been exposed to mainstream white feminism through a book. She goes out to intern for the author and learn more about her perspective so it’s not strange that the first thoughts and revelations would fall into her kind of feminism.
What’s important is that she outgrows that. She informs herself and learns to question what she’s always thought to be true. She finds her place in the community and learns that she is her own person so no one can tell her how to live or what to think (as easy and comfortable as that’d be) She learns to empower herself and that is a message I wish every person could hear.
The writing felt pure and un-adorned in the best way. The reading didn’t feel heavy although heavy themes were talked about.
Over all this is a powerful book with a powerful message and everyone should give it a try
Juliet: being MC means that everything I write here is about her but know that I love her and I especially love how much she grows through the novel.
Lannie: She was a bad girlfriend and didn’t even try. If you are having doubts about your feeling for someone you try to talk to that someone. If you care about them you try to make it work. Her absence for most of the story was pretty telling though.
Mom: This was a true latina mom. All of her actions were perfectly in character. Here is where you can tell that the book is ownvoices, because you can’t fake tough-latino-love this well.
Lil’ Melvin: Cute, pure, innocent lil’ Melvin. I love him. He acts as her sister’s sole support system and always has chocolate in hand.
Harlowe: SUCH good representation of what White Feminism (TM) looks like. I have to admit she was written so well that I swear it was based on more than a few women I know.
Phen: …Was there really a point for this character? Srsly, he is there to play the part of annoyingly-selfcongratulating-piece of crap-sjw. The only grown man who has some relevance and he also leaves soon after making an appearance. Why are all these adults dicks? If this was an official internship and the guy who was supposed to show you around made you feel like shit and then left you in the middle of an unknown city they’d have a lawsuit smack them SO hard.
Maxine: She fell a bit flat to me. I liked her but I felt that she could have been much more. She didn’t seem really invested in her primary partner’s life going in and out of the story as convenient.
Zaira: I could have read an entire book about her. I want to know more about her initiatives to promote writers of color and make a space for all of them
Kira: She was every young wlw woman’s dream. A sexy librarian that also rides a motorcycle?? Sing me tf up. Other than that this is another character that I’d have liked to read more of.
Ava: Also known as: a person who knows Juliet is going through a lot but doesn’t bother to explain stuff to her until she sits her down and asks everything out right. We know she didn’t like Harlowe and that she thought her feminism was bs so… why didn’t she talk to her cousin about that? Why didn’t she ask her why she followed a person like that?
“Just sitting there watching everyone made me view my people through a whole different lens, like we could be hippies too and that wouldn’t make us any less black or brown or human. I could dig that.”
The Octavia Butler Workshop. This is the first time Juliet sees feminists that look like her. She sees herself in then, what she could be if she wanted.
I can’t stress enough how important this is. The feminism we usually see is white women with drawings of vaginas or sh*t like that. We don’t see black and brown and asian women. Women working in their communities to help other women rise. We don’t see them. And so, for the first time in her life Juliet feels like she could call herself a feminist and it wasn’t exclusive to white people.
“…it felt good to pray, to remember to give thanks and feel connected to something beyond the confusion of being human.“
Juliet’s relationship with God. It almost brought me to tears a few times. To see a queer character that didn’t reject God or felt rejected by God was such a refreshing experience. I’m not saying that that kind of character is invalid since a lot of people have made queer people feel unsafe in sacred environments. I’m saying that I saw myself in Juliet. I know God loves me and I know that the bullshit people spew in Their name is because they made a wrong interpretation of the Word. It felt pure, it felt cleansing to read her not doubting Them once. And later, at the queer party Luz Ángel invoked the Virgin among other remarkable women.
That’s were I couldn’t stop myself from crying fyi
“You will write. You are Juliet Milagros Palante. This world is yours to reinvent”
Juliet realising that she has her own voice and that she deserves to be heard, Realising that she matter as much as everyone else and that she could reinvent the world
“Our identity as Puerto Ricans was tied into a movie where both lead actors was white”
“Maybe America just swallowed all of us, including our histories, and spat out whatever it wanted us to remember in the form of something flashy, cinematic, and full of catchy songs. And the rest of us, without that first hand knowledge of civil unrest and political acts of disobedience, just inhaled what they gave us.”
These quotes are pretty self-explanatory and I don’t think I am up to expanding on them but read them again, it should be enough to start questioning.
Zaira’s epic smack down in Harlowe’s reading.
I know it all goes to crap right after, and because, of that but DAMN. She stood there and asked this super famous white feminist: what about people of color? what about queer people? what about us?What about the disparity of our experiences? how can you say you will fight for all of us if you don’t even acknowledge our existence?
Ava nails the problem that I had since page 1 with this “feminism” and then proceeds to show what she thinks of her own gender:
“…as if sisterhood looked the same for everyone.”
“womanhood is radical enough for anyone who dares to claim it.”
“I didn’t stick up for myself.” “You shouldn’t have to”
Women have to stop putting each other down, there’s no point, no one wins. She shouldn’t have to protect herself from someone she trusted and Harlowe should be groveling at Juliet’s feet to make up for what she did.
And to end this on the highest note:
The queer people of color’s pool party.
It’s what dreams are made of. Every part of this was amazing and I’d love to go to a party like this. Everyone was so comfortable on their own skin and loved themselves, while helping others get there too. My favorite part was:
“We will riot, and party and honor our ancestors and no one can stop us. Glory to la madre, Sylvia Rivera, La Virgen de Guadalupe, and la reina, Selena Quintanilla Perez. And to you, my people, my Clipper Queerz, Luz Ángel loves you, if no one else does.”
Sadly, even for a 5 star book I have things that didn’t agree with me.
The absence of the dad? It felt weird because family is a key element of the story (and of most latinx’ lives) but he had a really small role in the first chapter only to disappear for the rest of the book.
Juliet was flirty and I enjoyed that but she also almost kissed Kira when she was still with Lannie only to then get mad at Lannie for falling for another girl when she did that exact same thing.
It took a while for them to confront the terf-y approach to feminism from Harlowe. They did, and as I said it was glorious but it made me feel uncomfortable for 70% of the book.
I respect what the author tried to do with the ending, how we can work together and help others learn from their mistakes BUT Harlowe was a grown-ass woman and she hurt a Juliet a lot. She apologizes, eventually and only when directly confronted, but I don’t think it was very responsible from Harlowe’s friends to let her keep housing Juliet. I don’t know why, but I felt like it was obvious that the house wasn’t really a safe space. I didn’t notice any micro-agressions but they could have been there after she reveals herself as a racist. I don’t think I’d keep being friends with someone like that. She literally used Juliet just to make a point and exposed what she thought was an abusive childhood to dozens of people (Imagine if Juliet actually had as hard a life as Harlowe’s prejudiced mind conjured, and then that was unexpectedly shared with a crowd without her consent??) I guess I just can’t forgive Harlowe
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