Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
Publisher: Dial Books (September 17, 2019)
"I was gonna have to nerd it out somehow."
Juliet Takes a Breath is a story about a young woman from the Bronx (you guessed it, her name is Juliet - and no, before you ask, it's not any reference whatsoever to the idiot teenager who poisoned herself over a boy she barely knew,) who gets an internship with a badass gay feminist author in Portland, Oregon. She comes out to her family literally RIGHT before she leaves, and so has to deal with not only the fallout from a disbelieving mother, but also an entirely new gay community who consider her Bronx gay education seriously lacking.
Disclaimer: I'm a cisgender straight white/latino girl, so if I use incorrect terminology just let me know so I can correct it.
I have a love/hate relationship with this book. The writing is excellent, the characters are well developed, and the story is good, though the plot is relatively uneventful, but that's typical with a coming-of-age type novel. I suppose I just don't like the way Juliet is treated by MOST of the other characters in the book. Maybe that's the point.
We'll start with Gabby's mother, who immediately dismisses her gayness as a "phase." If anyone's families have reacted that way to them coming out, I am so sorry, because that effing SUCKS. The rest of her family does the whole, "we love you for who you are" spiel, so at least she had some support, but the one she really needed it from was her mother.
And then there's Harlow Brisbane, the famous author of Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind. I had to use the Google to make sure this wasn't a real book, because there were so many engaging details that I kinda wanted to read it! But Harlow, oh, dear well intentioned but deluded Harlow. Poor Juliet is just coming into herself, figuring out who she is and who she wants to be, and here comes Harlow like a damn freight train, telling her HOW to be gay. I had a big problem with her from the start. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I thought the whole point was acceptance of who people are, not telling them how to be like you but different from everyone else. That's Harlow. And she seems to be using Juliet from the start. There are allusions to it throughout the book, but the writer never outright comes out and says that Harlow is a big fat liar. That is one thing I felt was missing - a loose end left untied.
What I loved about this book was the diversity of characters. First Juliet, who is astonishingly nerdy and likeable. I wanted good things for her from the first page. Her teddy bear baby brother and her badass aunties, her cousin and her strong accepting mother, the gay women of color community in Portland, the hippy gay community in Portland... this book is next to the definition of "representation" in the dictionary!
I'll finish with one of my favorite bookish quotes from Juliet Takes a Breath, that spoke to my soul and is one of the reasons I loved Juliet:
"Libraries are safe but also exciting. Libraries are where nerds like me go to refuel. They are safe havens where the polluted noise of the outside world, with all the bullies and bro-dudes and anti-femininist rhetoric, is shut out. Libraries have zero tolerance for bullshit. Their walls protect us and keep us safe from all the bastards that have never read a book for fun."