Juliet Takes A Breath by Gabby Rivera

I really enjoyed reading Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath.  Several bloggers I follow had  recommended this coming-of-age novel and I thought it would be a good pick for my goal of reading more LGBTQ authors in 2017.  What I didn’t anticipate was what a lively, energetic voice the character of Juliet would have.  I didn’t anticipate the extent to which I would identify with Juliet, despite not being Puerto Rican or a lesbian. This novel truly was a breath of fresh air.28648863

The bones of the story is this:  Juliet is a freshman in college, and she’s just come out to her close-knit family in the Bronx the day before leaving for a summer internship in Portland, Oregon.  She obtained the internship with feminist author Harlowe Brisbane by writing a beautiful, funny, soul-baring letter to her, which the book opens with.

I’ve got a secret.  I think it’s going to kill me.  Sometimes I hope it does.  How do I tell my parents that I’m gay?  Gay sounds just as weird as feminist. How do you tell the people that breathed you into existence that you’re the opposite of what they want you to be?  And I’m supposed to be ashamed of being gay, but now that I’ve had sex with other girls, I don’t feel any shame at all.  In fact, it’s pretty fucking amazing.  So how am I supposed to come out and deal with everyone else’s sadness?  … You did this to me.  I wasn’t gonna come out.  I was just gonna be that family member who’s gay and no one ever talks about it even though EVERYONE knows they share a bed with their “roommate.”  Now everything is different.

While Juliet is in Portland she is dealing with the emotional fallout of her coming out to her family and also trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with her first girlfriend. She’s researching forgotten feminist heroines for Harlowe and learning new terms like “PGPs” (preferred gender pronouns.) She smokes weed and drinks soy milk and flirts with cute baristas and librarians.  She learns that while her idol may be an expert on feminism, she is still clueless when it comes to dealing with her white privilege.

What I really liked about this novel was the fact that we not only got to join Juliet on her journey, geographically and spiritually, but we also got to see a loving family grappling emotionally with her coming out.  There are some honest, wrenching phone conversations between Juliet and her mom, and she finds a safe haven later in the book with one of her aunts and cousins on a trip to Miami, FL.  I loved all the references to the music Juliet listened to – her description of Ani Difranco’s music absolutely cracked me up. (“Her music evoked images of Irish bagpipes and stray cats howling in heat.”) I loved seeing Portland through Juliet’s eyes.  I’ve visited the city a couple of times and could see Powell’s Books and Pioneer Courthouse Square in my mind.  I identified with Juliet in that I was once a fiercely feminist young woman in a conservative environment, eager to experience life in a more liberal place.  When I got to my small liberal arts college I, too, felt out of my depth with all the new-to-me terms and language people were using to describe themselves.  I liked seeing her wrestle with her lesbian identity, her feminism, and her brownness, trying to find a place for herself where the intersection of all three identifiers gets messy.  All sorts of characters in this book are earnestly trying to be good to one another, which is a refreshing tone in modern fiction.  It was funny profane, and sweet.  I think this book would be a lifeline to a young person trying to deal with their sexuality.  It’s an excellent pick for anyone looking to diversify and shake up their reading.  I’m glad I read it.

For a brilliant take on this book, check out Naz’s great review here.

Have you read Juliet Takes A Breath?  Do you have any other recommendations for a coming-of-age story or a novel by a LGBTQ author?  Have you ever visited Portland, Oregon?  Let me know in the comments.

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25 thoughts on “Juliet Takes A Breath by Gabby Rivera

  1. I’ve been to Portland– to Powell’s and Zombie Doughnuts and the Chinese and Japanese gardens. My daughter and I spent about ten days touring the area from Vancouver, Washington a few years ago when Walker was playing in a chess tournament.
    Where did you go to college?

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      1. Oh yes, Voodoo Doughnuts! I knew it sounded wrong when I typed it.
        I know Earlham! A few years ago, when my daughter was in college at Grinnell and I was driving back and forth a lot to my parents’ house in Missouri, I used to pass the sign for the college and think “If you lived here, you’d be home now” which is from an old ad I used to see, sitting in traffic on the Washington DC beltway.

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      2. I thought you might know Earlham since you’re in Ohio, right? Richmond is a little more hip now than it used to be, I think, when I was there. It’s right on the way from Dayton to Indianapolis, so you could be either place in not too much time. If you were lucky enough to have a car on campus, that is!

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  2. This sounds very appealing. And I think it speaks for the writer if she can bring people on boatrd who, like you or me, are neither Puerto Rican nor lesbians. I wish my YA TBR pile wasn’t so high or I’d get this one.

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    1. Caroline, I didn’t even think to categorize this as YA but I guess it is. Sometimes it’s hard to tell, you know? It’s definitely a book for mature teens as well as adults. The main character is indeed incredibly appealing.

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  3. This does sound like a charming, almost comforting kind of book, if that makes sense! I have been to Portland but it was a loooong time ago when I was a kid and on family vacation going somewhere else for camping 🙂

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    1. Stefanie, it was comforting. For me at least. Some of Harlowe’s dialogue was kind of almost too “out there” and I wasn’t sure if Rivera was gently poking fun or not. But even if she was, it was meant in good spirits, I think! This book had a good heart.

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      1. I sure hope it’s one you can find! I hate making CanLit recommendations only to find out people can’t get them. Bottle Rocket Hearts has been out for a while now, though, so hopefully…

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  4. What a lovely review, Laila! I appreciate your honesty that you were surprised that you could relate so much to Juliet. She seems like an incredibly strong character — I assume that’s because you are too. 😉 I read Naz’s review, and while it was on point, I feel like connected more to your words. This is now on my TBR. I can’t wait to read it.

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      1. I think that emotional connection and how one feels reading a book is critical to the enjoyment. I find that I can be in love with a book when it’s released, but not like it that much the second time around, and vice versa. That’s a perfectly reasonable focus for a post. 🙂

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  5. Hahah: Sounds as weird as being feminist! *giggles* This sounds like so much fun: I’ll get to it (eventually). Another coming-of-age novel that I found very funny was April Sinclair’s Coffee Will Make You Black. And a classic LGBTQ+ which I really enjoyed (also funny) is Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle. I’ve got a soft spot for this kind of story overall!

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  6. Ahh, I’m so happy to see that you’ve read and enjoyed Juliet Takes A Breath! It really is such a fun, quote-able and refreshing read, isn’t it? I still remember it very fondly and will continue to recommend it to people.

    Thank you for linking to my review!

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  7. Wonderful review Laila. Juliet sounds like an amazing character and its nice to see that you were able to identify with her. I have always been interested in diverse reads but I am yet to read anything by an LBGTQ+ author or even any books with MCs who are gay. I hope to do so soon though and if I get this book then this will be a great start.

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