Reading Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera was one of the most positive, transformative, illuminating experiences I’ve had this year. It’s certainly my favorite 2016 release, by far.
A novel hasn’t resonated with me this profoundly in a long time. The last book that elicited a similar reaction from me was Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. But Juliet Takes a Breath is on an entirely different level. While I do appreciate literature about experiences foreign to my own, representative literature that serves as a mirror to my own life is spiritually fulfilling, so to speak. That’s exactly how I felt after closing this book. My essence, my aura, my self — they were all satiated and happy.
I hope you have all had a similar experience recently, in a way unique to you.
Even if you can’t relate to Juliet the same way I could, meeting her at the intersection of being Queer and Latinx, there is still much to love about this story. So I want to highlight eight reasons why you should read and will fall in love with Juliet Takes a Breath.
8 Reasons Why You Will Love Juliet Takes A Breath
1. The Preface
The book begins in the most beautiful and incredible way. The preface is the letter that Juliet wrote to the author of her favorite book Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind. First of all, this title is dropped in the second sentence of the book. Clearly it’s a litmus test: if the title turns you off or makes your uncomfortable, this may not be the book for you. But if you turn away now, you would be missing out on an incredible journey.
Anyway, Juliet wrote this letter to author Harlowe Brisbane — a famous feminist and lesbian — as part of an internship application. And well, it’s bloody brilliant, thoughtful, and profound. Here’s an excerpt:
But now I’m writing to you because this book of yours, this magical labia manifesto, has become my Bible. It’s definitely a reading from the book of white lady feminism and yet, there are moments where I see my round, brown ass in your words. I wanted more of that, Harlowe, more representation, more acknowledgement, more room to breathe the same air as you. “We are all women. We are all of the womb. It is in that essence of the moon that we share sisterhood” — that’s you. You wrote that and I highlighted it, wondering if that was true. If you don’t know my life and my struggles, can we be sisters?”
2. Juliet’s stunning narrative voice
The language in this book is simply stunning. Juliet’s voice carries you through the story and offers funny, intellectual, and incisive commentary. Just read this:
I fall asleep with that book in my arms because words protect hearts and I’ve got this ache in my chest that won’t go away. I read Raging Flower and now I dream of raised fists and solidarity marches led by matriarchs fueled by café con leche where I can march alongside cigar-smoking doñas and Black Power dykes and all the world’s weirdos and no one is left out. And no one is living a lie.
3. Juliet’s visit to Portland and her reaction to the locals
Juliet comes out to her family the day before she is to leave for her internship in Portland. I admire Juliet for coming out to her family during a dinner because it’s a terrifying thing to do! I had to do it over the phone. :/ Anyway, Juliet leaves the next day and finds herself in the very strange world of Portland, Oregon full of an entirely different breed of white people than she was used to, as she says. These Portland hippies were eccentric and…very smelly.
This must have been a busload of no-shame-having motherless children because there were loose sagging tits, sweat stains and B.O. running free like locusts. Some of the men on the bus looked like normal white guys but their beards were thick, unkempt, and their T-shirts were yellowed from sweat. I didn’t understand them. What kind of white people were they?
4. Juliet attends an Octavia Butler Writer’s Workshop
This was one of the standout scenes from the entire novel. Juliet is taken to this writer’s workshop run by Zaira – a force of nature, a feminist, a lesbian, a genius, and so much more. In this workshop, Juliet writes her very first sci-fi short story titled, Starlight Mamitas: Three Chords of Rebellion. I would do anything to read this story! It also foreshadows, I think, at Gabby Rivera’s next novel, Supermoon, which she calls a “latina punk band sci-fi epic.” I will be buying this book on day 1.
5. All the Raging Flower quotes
Raging Flower is the book that started Juliet’s journey to self-discovery and self-love. It’s powerful, visceral, raw, and empowering. While Harlowe is a problematic character, she at least knows how to write beautifully and with passion.
We are born with the power of the moon and the flow of the waves within us. It’s only after being commodified for our femaleness that we lose that power. The first step in gaining it back is walking face first into the crashing seas and daring the patriarchy to follow. pg. 9
To Love another woman is to streak naked across the sky, swallow the sun in one bite, and live aflame. To love another woman is to look at yourself in the mirror and determine that you are worthy of the galaxy and its fury. To love another woman is to love yourself more than you love her. pg. 143
6. Juliet’s bond with her family
Family is an important aspects of Juliet’s life and story. She is initially rejected by her mother, which is devastating. But Juliet’s younger brother, aunts, and cousins love and support her. Even her grandma accepts Juliet the night she comes out: “You are what you are, Juliet. You are my blood, my first-born granddaughter. I love you like the seas love the moon.” It’s wonderful to see a Queer narrative that isn’t centered around grief and rejection. Sure, there’s a bit of that in here, but the novel also explores so many different and varied themes, one of the most important ones being familial bonds. The scenes and conversations with Juliet’s aunts and cousins are some of the most touching and significant.
7. It’s a brilliant piece of feminist text
After reading a few pages, you will know that this is a feminist text. 50 pages in, and you will realize that it’s a very important piece of feminist text because it explores feminism and intersectionality in all their complexity. Is feminism a universal concept? Does mainstream/white feminism include the narratives of women of color? What about Queer and trans women of color? These questions and more are all explored in the fascinating conversations of brilliant women and Juliet’s interactions with them. The problematic aspects of white feminism are highlighted in particular, as this issue is one of the more prominent themes in the novel. I don’t want to give too much away, but white feminism is placed under scrutiny in the last 3rd of the novel, and let me tell you, it makes for a riveting read.
8. It will teach you so damn much
Most of the Queer narratives I have read are about men, so Juliet’s story was refreshing and eye-opening even for me. If you don’t read much LGBT fiction, or perhaps pick up a mainstream one every once in a while, Juliet Takes a Breath will blow your mind and take your breath away. It will open worlds previously unknown to you and will want to share it with everyone as soon as you’re done reading. All the learning happens very naturally because Juliet is learning along with you. The novel starts as she is thrust into a world vastly different from the one she knows, so she must adapt, grow, and continue to learn to survive and thrive in this new environment. If you aren’t a prude or easily offended, you will learn so damn much and love every second of it.
In conclusion – this book is magnificent. I’m 99% sure you will fall in love with Juliet and her story. So please read it and tell everyone you know to read it once you’re done. Oh, and tell their moms to read it too!
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