Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Finally, finally, finally, I got my hands on a copy of this novel. I’ve been keeping an eye out for it ever since it took the book blogging world by storm. Juliet Takes a Breath stars the titular character, Juliet, a queer, latina college student on a journey that involves discovery of herself, and the world. She is leaving Bronx for Portland to begin an internship with a famous feminist author, Harlowe Brisbane. She’s one who instigated Juliet’s feminist awakening, and of course Juliet can’t help idolising her.

1Before leaving on her trip, however, she has summoned up all her courage to come out to her family. They’re not exactly delighted. In fact, Juliet’s mother retreats into silence, and Juliet leaves for the next stage of her journey, in agony over whether her mother will accept her identity.

Portland, when she does get there, is not without problems. She’s thrown into a whole new world of meanings, and ways of being. She finds that her heroines are not who she thought they were, and that searching for a community of like-minded people who will accept her can be an uphill climb.

Juliet is an endearing character. She is warm, and curious and exactly one of those characters you wish was real so you could be friends with them. Her tone is vivid and effusive. It sort of jumps off the page at you, and you can really hear her in your head. She really is like Holden Caulfield for the contemporary, queer youth, except much less whiny and annoying.  I adored the relationships she had with her younger brother, her aunts, and her cousins. Overall, Juliet’s family seems pretty close, but that intimacy reaches out to her extended family as well, and you can see that a lot of love and warmth are at the heart of it.

However, the characters were also lacking in good development. There could have been a lot more exposition. A lot of it is also due to the fact that there was a lot more telling than showing. So much of the conversation between characters was narrated to me, instead of allowing me to “listen in” on the dialogue. This became a little frustrating because it started to feel like I was reading from a journal, with someone recounting a scene to me, as opposed to me being able to view the scene for myself. This really detracted from the book, especially as it seems to be a title targeted for older Young Adult, or New Adult (adults who are college, and post-college age) audiences. There were also several typos throughout the novel, and it could have probably used another edit or two.

Having mentioned the above, I do appreciate the fact that this book has arrived at a time when there are few like it. It deals with a young, latina character exploring her sexuality, her personal identity, as well as her academic identity. It explores issues of inclusiveness, diversity, and intersectionality. These are all extremely rare things in the world of young adult literature, and for that I’m excited for this novel, for where it has gone, and will continue to go.

I will just include a link to a review here that examines a careless comment made by Juliet regarding the Native American community. Overall, Rivera was quite good about untangling Juliet’s mistaken assumptions, but this one was never addressed, which this reviewer discusses.

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone and everyone. If you see it, pick it up, read it, share it. It deals with a lot of important issues, and shines light on many things that need to be discussed openly.

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