8 Reasons Why You Will Love Juliet Takes a Breath

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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Juliet Takes a Breath



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61 thoughts on “8 Reasons Why You Will Love Juliet Takes a Breath

  1. I tried to tweet about it but for some reason it’s not showing up in my feed. Anyway, I had this on my TBR but reading your review makes me want to read it even more! My library doesn’t have it but I’ll try to procure it another way.

  2. Thank you for showing us books that we can identify ourself with. As a Latina writer and reader, I am always looking for experience that represent us in literature. Great job!

    1. Please read this book even if you don’t win (but good luck!). It’s one of the best, most important Queer Latinx narratives I’ve ever read. I want this story to be on everyone’s radar. I want everyone to at least have heard of the Juliet Takes a Breath and remain in the back of their minds. It’s that good!

  3. I have heard only good things about this book so far- and I am saving it for the 24in48 readathon happening in a couple of weeks to read it. A very illuminating post on all the great things about this book, Naz. Thanks for hosting the giveaway!

  4. Your live for this book is just radiating off the screen! 😊 It does sound like a wonderful book and I like the quotes you’ve shared. Will definitely read this one. 😊

  5. I’m so excited to read Juliet, especially with you and others buzzing about it constantly on my feed! I love filling my feed with brilliant #DiverseBookBloggers whose recommendations I trust completely! Just FYI, since you know I’m INTL–if I win, it’s going to a young queer mentee in the states who I know will adore it. I hope that’s okay!

  6. Right now I am reading Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher by Monica Nolan and having so much fun with it! Nolan writes these parodies of the old pulp novels.

    Have you read Alison Bechdel’s book Fun Home yet? I need to get on the follow-up book, Are You My Mother?

      1. I never had a moment when I thought, “I should read lesbian fiction.” I was more like I found one book which led to another and so on. The lesbian fiction I’ve read is doing fun, surprising, and important things, genre and content wise.

        1. I do get thoughts like that all the time. It’s how I operate as a reader naturally. If I notice a gap in my reading, I try to find books that I could potentially read to fill that gap. I have not read nearly as much as other people, so there are many gaps to fill. I know other people don’t think this way, but I cant’ help it.

  7. I added this to my Goodreads To-Read list around the same time I saw you were reading it and I was soo jealous! Can’t wait to get my hands on it ^__^. And I love this review for Rivera’s book. Brought all that envy back to the surface XD.

  8. This review is wonderful Naz! A fantastic breakdown of all the reasons to it pick up. Ditto on auto-buying Supermoon – latina punk band sci-fi epic – oh my gosh, that description has so much to love in it – I really need this book in my life. Seriously.

    1. Thanks! I had to share all the reasons I loved the book so much. There were more but I don’t want to overwhelm my readers. hah
      I’m happy to hear you loved JTaB too and are stoked for Supermoon. I trust Gabby Rivera to write another instant classic.

  9. I’ve seen this book quite a few times and Im in love with the cover. Your breakdown of the book is sooo convincing lol. I have to read it now.

  10. Wonderful review, Naz! It’s surely a book that will resonate with queer latinx most all but has a lot to teach all readers. I adore the Workshop scene and had to squee when the afterword showed there would be a SciFi book by Rivera soonish!!🙌 Also the way she deals with white feminist! I’m much less for giving, so I found the later parts really interesting.

    1. That’s why I am constantly gushing and recommending it to everyone! Also, my Twitter profile pic is another way of promoting the book. 😉 I hope it’s working.
      I did think Juliet was quite gentle on Harlowe in the end. I also would have been a been much harsher, but Juliet is a better person than I clearly.

  11. This book sounds amazing, and now I’m dying to read this of course! I haven’t read much LBGT fiction, but I want to because I think it is so important to read books from POVs different from my own. The prose in the quotes you gave is so elegant, I can’t get over it! Beautiful review overall 🙂

    1. Oh, I’m sure you’d love this book! Yes, the language in this book is simply stunning. It must make many beginning writers jealous! But it should also be a source of inspiration because, I believe, this is Rivera’s first novel.

  12. I read this on vacation and was so glad I did. One of the things that impressed the hell out of me was how super gracious Juliet managed to be with the people in her life had let her down. That she was so good to her ex, and so kind to Harlowe even after Harlowe treated her pretttttty badly — it wasn’t what I expected, necessarily, and I’m nearly always glad when books surprise me in the direction of characters being kinder than I thought they’d be.

    1. Juliet is a certainly a role model in many aspects! I wouldn’t have been as gracious and forgiving of people who wronged me, which shows how great of a person she is.
      This book is perfect for reading during a vacation and am so glad you enjoyed it as well. Please recommend it whenever you can 😉

  13. Great review–I think I’d heard about the book on this website earlier and have it on my TBR. As a Portland native, I’m always amused by the Portlandia stereotyping we get these days. Then I remember that I work with THREE dudes with carefully cultivated beards, and that I haven’t shaved my legs since the Clinton administration, and have to admit that it all has a kernel of truth.

    1. I have been talking about Juliet Takes a Breath quite incessantly, so I’m not surprised you heard about it from me first!
      I’m sorry Portlanders (Portlandians?) get stereotyped so much! I am very aware that’s all it is, but it’s still very funny. Though I did show a comical scene from the book, many of the Porland residents are rendered with nuance and respect. 🙂

  14. I love your enthusiasm – you’re completely convincing! Just added it to my Goodreads list. 🙂
    I also love reading books that mirror my own life in some way. Which is one of the reasons I love trying out local authors. I’m happy that you found one that speaks to you so strongly. It makes me want to read it even more!

  15. Thanks for this review. I will try to find it. and thanks for all you do for diverse reading.

    At one point I meant to sign up for the challenge you were doing, but I don’t think I did. Anyway. Here are a couple of books relevant to it that I read last month.

    Slow River, Nicola Griffin. lesbian
    Celia’s song, Lee Maracle. Indigenous Canadian First nations. My favorite for this year.

    I also just finished and will post soon about Anabel, by Kathleen Winter. About baby born in with male and female genitalia. Raised as a boy, but also a girl. Points toward blurring of gender lines in a radical way.

    Have you read Borderlands, La frontera, The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldúa. It’s a lesbian feminist Latina classic.

    1. It means so much to me that you’re considering reading Juliet Takes a Breath. It’s definitely worth your time.

      For Read Diverse Books Year-Round there isn’t a formal “signing up.” All you have to do is review qualifying books on your blog, Goodreads, Amazon, etc and link them up in my pinned post. I’m glad you read Celia’s Song! I have my eye on that one and an actively seeking to read more Indigenous writers.

      Yes, of course. I read Borderlands in college. 🙂

  16. Loved this book — loved your review, which is what turned me on to it. The amazing thing about this book is that I think it can resonate both with people who can personally relate to Juliet and her world, and those like myself whose lives and realities are in a completely different space. Reading the book was simply a pleasure! As is reading your reviews.

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