Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera – 4/ 5 stars
An intersectional debut novel about a queer Puerto Rican woman living in the Bronx who travels to Portland for an internship with a white Lesbian author for the summer. This book is part coming of age story and part navigating intersectionality and part coping with life. It covers difficult and challenging topics with a light touch, making them a part of everyday conversation. It is this light and gentle touch that makes this book so powerful and why everyone needs to read it right now.
Juliet reads a book by a white Lesbian feminist which feels as though it lacks intersectionality. The book is a bit #solidarityisforwhitewomen. So Juliet writes a letter to the author and asks for an internship to address this gap. She is offered the internship, so Juliet comes out to her family, then immediately boards a plane, and leaves the Bronx for Portland. Thus starts the novel, Juliet Takes a Breath. This book has a bit of it all from the very beginning.
Juliet is confronted with challenging topics from page one. From how to make feminism more inclusive to safe spaces for people of color and the queer community to traditional family values to Latina and specifically Puerto Rican history to letting others speak for you, this book moves fluidly from one issue to another, never diving too deep into one nor proclaiming to know all the answers. This is the genius of Juliet Takes a Breath. Most books are too heavy handed when addressing these topics and thus shut down the discussion and/ or reflection before it can happen. But instead, all the characters are flawed in some way and need others around them to have open, honest, and vulnerable conversations about these flaws. It is these conversations that allow the reader to honestly reflect on themselves and see whether any of these topics ring true for them. I know they did for me.
This is the type of coming of age story everyone needs, not just queer Latinas, because it addresses so many various topics while also being accessible to people of all different backgrounds. The concepts are discussed and defined for readers who may be less familiar with the vocabulary. Then relevant and current issues are discussed in ways which do not shame but instead allow for honest reflection on not only the role of others but also our role. It is more and more challenging to navigate the world as there is more awareness around diversity and many of us do not know how to negotiate these conversations or situations. We need more stories like this to help us start those challenging conversations and move closer to an inclusive society. We all need a Juliet in our lives.
This was one of the hardest books I have reviewed because it was so different from anything else I have come across. Over and over, I was finding moments I could relate to – very vulnerable moments, some of which I have not fully healed from. I needed this book, even now, as a grown woman who does not feel like she is coming of age. So, I want to do it justice. I need to do it justice. But I simply do not know how to do it justice. I do not have the language nor other works of fiction I can point to. This book is brilliantly unique and it is that because it is an #ownvoices story. Yet, there is absolutely something relatable in this story, even if you do not feel you fit into any of the categories – queer, Latina, etc. – and it is absolutely accessible, and a quick, easy read, so it needs to move to the top of your to-be-read list now!
While the story was fantastic, I would have liked to see stronger editing as the copy I received had some grammatical errors and was sometimes too vocab heavy. I also would have liked to see a bit more literary depth, though it is more challenging for first person narratives to be more descriptive and literary over direct. I also would have liked just a bit more discussion on some of these topics. Most of them are not discussed in quite enough detail to provide meaningful growth for the reader, but there is a delicate balance between saying too much and not enough. Overall, this is an excellent novel and I am excited to see what Gabby Rivera writes next!
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*I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review