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Juliet Takes a Breath

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Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.

Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?

With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.

276 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 18, 2016

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About the author

Gabby Rivera

44 books936 followers
Gabby Rivera is a Bronx-born, queer Puerto Rican author on a mission to create the wildest, most fun stories ever.

She’s the first Latina to write for Marvel Comics, penning the solo series America about America Chavez, a portal-punching queer Latina powerhouse. Rivera’s critically acclaimed debut novel Juliet Takes a Breath was called “f*cking outstanding” by Roxane Gay and was re-published in September 2019 by Penguin Random House. Currently, Gabby is the writer and creator of b.b. free, a new original comic series with BOOM! Studios. Stay tuned for her podcast joy revolution coming in 2020!

When not writing, Gabby speaks on her experiences as a queer Puerto Rican from the Bronx, an LGBTQ youth advocate, and the importance of prioritizing joy in QTPOC communities at events across the country.

Gabby makes magic on both coasts, currently residing in California. She writes for all the sweet baby queers, and her mom.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,554 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 121 books157k followers
February 2, 2016
Exuberant and gorgeous debut novel about a young queer Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx who spends a summer in Portland as an intern to a hippy white woman. So much of this book is hilarious and charming. I kept finding myself laughing out loud. And the gorgeous, moving turns of phrase made me catch my breath. Really great story telling here. So much to relate to as a queer POC trying to make sense of the broader queer and feminist communities.

I did want to see this book have a stronger edit. At times there was so much Queer 101 didactic prose that slowed the novel down.

That said this novel comes highly, highly recommended. It is fucking outstanding.
Profile Image for Emma Giordano.
317 reviews116k followers
June 18, 2018
3.5 stars!! This was an enjoyable read full of intersectional feminism, lgbtq+ issues, racial issues, and exploration of identity.

CW: racism, homophobia, transphobia, cheating

Being honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the writing style. I know many readers enjoy a “stream-of consciousness” narration and while I do enjoy a novel like this from time to time, it didn’t work in my favor 100% of the time in this case. I think because it was also so heavily reliant on New York slang, which I hear constantly in my day-to-day life but prefer not to read it because it’s extremely informal. There were a lot of moments where I enjoyed Juliet’s unfiltered nature in dialogue, but the way her thought process was written is not a favorite of mine. In contrast, there were also a few scenes that felt the complete opposite. I can recount quite a few scenes where the tone was almost “preachy” (specifically from Harlowe & her friends); I sometimes felt as if I was in a lecture on women’s studies as opposed to observing a natural conversation. I feel there is a balance to be made between formality and informality when writing and this book seemed to teeter between one extreme end and the other. Additionally, Juliet Takes A Breath is another one of those novels that falls into the category of “Just follow the main character throughout their summer!!!” which is my least favorite sort of contemporary to read. While this novel does prevail over others as so much of the novel is driven by Juliet’s journey to learning about feminism, it’s plotless besides that. I crave stories with significant events, plot twists, highs and lows, but this book remained constant for 2/3 of the story.

Given the lack of plot, I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions happening along the story. It was really wonderful to follow a teen in the process of developing their brand of feminism – from learning new terminology to questioning their values and confronting their biases. I remember what it is like to come in contact with words like “preferred gender pronouns” “allyship” “polygamy” Juliet’s journey is extremely well-rounded and does not miss a beat when it comes to expressing what an intersectional feminist looks like. I particularly loved her by the end when we get to see Juliet unapologetically herself, forming her own opinions, and exploring the QPOC community where she truly belongs. I feel Juliet’s story is one that is powerful, one that is necessary, and one that everyone can take something away from. Following the perspective of a Puerto-Rican lesbian discovering feminism is an experience I cherished and I hope to read from more protagonists like Juliet in the future. As a character, she is imperfect and a bit naïve, but she is also open and authentic, funny and curious, and she is so wonderfully herself that it was hard not to fall for her along the story.

The part of this book I struggled with the most is the infamous Harlowe Brisbane. I could not STAND her or any scene involving her. I attempted to brush it off to differences in lifestyle (The whole “Let’s have a ceremony for your period” “I’m honored you’d bleed out of your vagina in my household” is NOT my thing, but I recognize that is how other people live their lives and that’s fine!) but all throughout the story I grew to dislike her more and more. I feel the tipping point for me was when Harlowe dismissed Juliet’s requests for advil to alleviate her menstral cramps and badgered her into following her personal methods because she was *clearly* the ~more enlightened feminist~ which means *her view is correct!* Harlowe is dripping with white feminism 24/7 and Juliet’s blind dedication to her gave me a headache every time I picked up the book. That being said, Harlowe’s flaws are unearthed and challenged by the end of the story so I can recognize that she was intentionally written to be a symbol of when feminism becomes exclusionary, so that was appreciated. But on the other hand, Harlowe made this book unbearable to read at some points so while I can admit it was executed well in the end, I’m still entitled to be annoyed at how much she damped my enjoyment of the story for the majority of the book.

Overall, Juliet Takes A Breath was an enjoyable read. It’s not a favorite of mine by any means, but I still feel there is so much value in Juliet’s story. I don’t feel it is the strongest novel in the world in terms of storytelling, but there is a message to be spread through Juliet. And it is heard.
Profile Image for Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd).
332 reviews7,310 followers
February 27, 2022
"Feminism. I’m new to it. The word still sounds weird and wrong. Too white, too structured, too foreign: something I can’t claim."

Though this is the opening of the book, it sets a tone that defines the rest of the novel. It is a rare book that from the very beginning I can feel it sinking into my bones, but that is exactly what this felt like. And despite the fact that I kept worrying maybe that feeling would go away, I was entranced from beginning to end, and sobbed through the epilogue. This is a book that has power. And a book that will stay with me.

Juliet is a 19-year-old Puerto Rican lesbian from the Bronx who goes to be an intern for a hippy white feminist in Portland, and who also happens to have written Juliet's favorite book. It is a book about pussy power. But fear not, those worrying (as I did) about the cissexist nature of that book: it is called out frequently in the latter half of the novel! Just as so many other things are. In Portland, Juliet is part of an incredibly queer community. The number of queer women around at all times in this novel was impossible to ignore and it made my heart sing. Queer women of color, specifically, were essential in Juliet coming to understand the terminology she needed to define her own identity and to help offer new definitions of feminism and queer identity that can feel more inclusive to her.

It feels rare to experience such visibly queer spaces in books. Not just queer spaces that happen in one scene, but a constantly queer environment that is full of support but also critique and questioning of white feminist structures. Beyond the presence of queer spaces, there is also so much emphasis on POC-only spaces and the importance that they have. Over and over again, the bullshit complaints of white feminists are shot down and intersectionality is emphasized, explained, and made the most important part of the feminism Juliet is trying to learn. A feminism that includes her, in all her Puerto Rican lesbian glory.

Not to continue gushing, but some of my other favorite moments include: an entire chapter dedicated to making the period a celebrated experience, the strained but intensely loving relationship between Juliet and her mother, the entire chapter entitled "Ain't No Party Like an Octavia Butler Writer's Workshop", girls flirting, close family relationships, mini history lessons about amazing forgotten women of color, and about a hundred other things.

OH OH OH and I almost forgot: the almost embarrassing amount of realism that queer women become completely useless in the presence of other beautiful lady-identified individuals. Every time Juliet saw a fabulous queer lady and lost the ability to speak or spit out coherent sentences I was on another planet of joy.

This is the coming of age story of a fierce, funny, nerdy, chubby, intelligent Latina. It was breathtaking and sharp, full of so much goodness I know I'll be able to find new things again and again. It acts as an intro for those who don't know queer and feminist terminology, but also serves as a critique of the whiteness of those structures if you already do. It is ownvoices and vibrant and incredible. I'm begging you to read it.
Profile Image for Adri.
947 reviews801 followers
July 4, 2016
Damn, this book is beautiful. Damn, I needed this book. Damn, I'm glad this book exists. Damn.

JTAB is all about discovering your self-worth, finding your voice, being brave enough to use it, and learning to write yourself into existence—because if you don't do it yourself, no one else will.

When I first looked up this book, I didn't really get what it was about. Some queer Puertorriqueña snags an internship with some white hippie super-feminist for the summer? I mean, I could get down with that, don't get me wrong, but I just didn't get it. But then I started reading the book, and I realized: Holy shit. This book is about me.

This book celebrates all the different kinds of wonderfully brown humans in the world. It challenges stereotypes and rejoices in people who come from different backgrounds, who hold different beliefs, who believe and act differently than the world expects them to, and who give no fucks about it. This story interrogates the institution of feminism and queer spaces, especially when both of those tend to privilege white voices and bodies. Juliet constantly struggles with how she should feel about feminism and queer theory, when neither of these things were made for her, or with her in mind. How anyone who isn't white is expected to to accept white feminism—white anything—as the universal truth, how we are expected to find ourselves there when we were never written into it in the first place. How those who have been othered can other people themselves. How we are forced to assimilate and assume a language that was never made for us. How doing so can create a division with our roots and make us feel like we're "not brown enough."

And how Juliet's family took her coming out? Don't even get me started on how much truth was present on the page there. It's so hard to balance the respect you have for your roots, your parents, your life forces, with the knowledge that some days are going to be harder than others. One day they're chill and the next they're trying to talk you down from it or convince you that it's just a phase. How no one wants to confront it or talk about it—some days it's just ignore, ignore, ignore at all costs—because then they think it'll go away or it won't be real. How we need to be patient and trust in the love that our fams give us, even when it's not easy. How some days we can't act or present ourselves in a way that's authentic to us, because those are the concessions we have to make sometimes in order to live and keep the peace. Para la familia. Every day is a negotiation.

Y'all, this book just hit me deep. I live this damn struggle every day and Gabby Rivera managed to perfectly capture it in less than 300 pages. Every page of this book made me feel alive and known. And I still don't know how to put that into words.

If you're queer and brown and still trying to figure out how to exist in this world, please read this book. It's for you.
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,132 reviews1,390 followers
April 11, 2017
Man, I hate to give this only 2 stars but I just can't honestly give it any more. It's too bad because the ideas really have potential--the general plot outline sounds just like the coming out / of age novels I love, the affectionate parodies of white feminism were spot-on (the excerpts from Raging Flower were fucking brilliant). Some of the writing on the sentence level was quite nice. Ugh, and I totally support the book's QTPOC politics too. I really wanted to love this! THERE'S EVEN A SEXY LIBRARIAN WHO RIDES A MOTORCYCLE.

But god damnit, I just read an entire fucking novel of telling instead of showing. And the characterization was so shallow; most of the characters never felt real to me. Ultimately, I was just really bored reading this. I've read some of Rivera's journalism and essays on Autostraddle, which I thought were great, but fiction is a VERY different kind of writing and this entire novel needs a gigantic editorial makeover to transform it into that. So much of it read like a Queer 101 textbook and/or journal entries. What a bummer.

Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
660 reviews3,882 followers
June 16, 2017
if it’s a phase, so what? if it’s your whole life, who cares? you’re destined to evolve and understand yourself in new ways you never imagined before.


From the very moment Juliet Milagros Palante referred to herself as a ferocious cunt I knew I'd like this book.

First of all, because teenagers swearing is realistic and I want it more in books. Second of all, because I just think there's something entirely glorious about referring to yourself as a ferocious cunt.

This book is one of those books I worry people won't read or will dnf because it's not got that much plot. It's a coming of age story, and I get why people say it's boring but this book is so entirely well written, well addressed, well researched and well presented it's a massive fucking shame if people walk past it. Even though it's not a typical fast moving plot, I still felt myself constantly reaching for this because it was endlessly interesting in other ways then plot.

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.

Juliet Takes a Breath follows Puerto Rican lesbian girl Juliet Palante who's recently been introduced to feminism and "Pussy Power" by Portland writer Harlowe Brisbane. Juliet takes up a summer intern with Harlowe, and the story basically followers her as she navigates her internship.

( by nomoreheroestwo on tumblr)

The truly beautiful and unique thing about this book is the incredible visibility of queer spaces, and especially queer spaces for women of colour. This book debunks and challenges aspects of feminism and womanhood that are exclusionary, cissexist or racist and promotes intersectionality. Juliet must confront and explore how her sexuality, gender and ethnicity intersect and that exploration is something so rarely seen in YA.

What I liked about this is it kinda feels like you take Juliet's hand and learn as she does. This forced me to address and acknowledge some of my own white privilege and cissexism and I really liked that about it. If you're willing to go into it open minded you will genuinely learn alot about modern feminism, lgbt+ communities, QPOC spaces and intersectional feminism.

Gabby Rivera feels in control and educated on every subject that comes up - this is own voices, but still a part of me was worried the exclusionary aspects of Harlowe's feminism would never be addressed. Shame on me for having no faith, Rivera masterfully writers and crafts her story.

Aside from the larger themes, this book has such cute romance elements. There's a cute librarian girl who rides a motorbike and goes stargazing !! And an interracial couple with no white people !! (Kira is biracial Korean and White) There is also a poly relationship. And aaah it's so cute !! And Juliet is soo tongue tied over the cute girls and it was just sweet and not sexualised or anything but was just soft and realistic and I LOVED IT.

Genuinely, I think this is such an important and well written book. I think it's important book that offers so much visible spaces for lgbt+ youth and especially queer women of colour. This book is filled to the brim with strong, outspoken and beautiful queer, poc women and it truly made my heart sing. The representation matters so much to me, and I imagine it matters even more to brown girls.

This book feels so rare, like I don't know if I'll read anything which forefronts queer spaces this much again. I will never be over it. I genuinely want everyone to read this - whether you're gay, white, female or not.

I feel so incredibly gushy about this book - like, you don't understand how validated and good this makes me feel and it isn't even for me. I am so happy Juliet got to find and experience spaces that included her, and a brand of feminism she could claim. Juliet's story is incredibly important, she's a chubby, latina queer women who finds her voice, her discovers and claims her own sexuality and spaces. The sharpness and poignancy of this book will not be forgotten by me, it's a terribly important story, a true look into how queer women of colour are struggling and it's a great intro book to inclusionary feminism which also serves as a critique and reminder to white feminist.

I am literally willing to beg people to read this, it's that important.

Kiss everyone.
Ask first.
Always ask first and then kiss the way the stars burn in the sky.

Profile Image for Romie.
1,075 reviews1,271 followers
April 17, 2017
I strongly believe that everybody should read this book. You don’t have to be a woman to like it, nor a woman who loves other women; you don’t have to be white, asian, latino, black … you just have to be you to like this book as much as I did.

I don’t even know where to start. There are so many things I want to say and I’m afraid I won’t be able to do this book justice. Because this book represents everything I’m looking for in a Contemporary. Everything.

The main character, Juliet, just came out to her entire family before leaving for Portland for the entire summer. She goes there to be the Pussy Lady’s intern, a very well loved white feminist lady who wrote Juliet’s favourite book, Raging Flower.
And I loved Juliet, I loved how clueless she is about the LGBTQ community, about feminism, about herself, because we discover all these things with her. We experience her doubts, her sadness, her happiness, her pain, and it was freaking beautiful.
Juliet goes through a lot, she meets new people, open her mind to a world she didn’t know existed, she finds herself, or at least she begins to understand who she wants to be.

Me. Because I’m a messy, over-emotional, book nerd, weirdo, chubby brown human and I needed to learn how to love myself, even the shameful bits.

This book deals a lot with feminism and how different feminism can be for a lot of people. I admit, I was extremely afraid at the beginning of this book, because I felt like the feminism that was described was only meant for white cis women, and I didn’t want to find this kind of bullshit in this book. But turned out the book condemns strongly this ‘kind’ of feminism.

I couldn’t understand why it mattered so much. Like, what was so bad about Raging Flower? Ava said it was because Harlowe didn’t make queer and or trans women of color a priority in her work; that Harlowe assumed that we could all connect through sisterhood, as if sisterhood looked the same for everyone. As if all women had vaginas.
“Um, Ava, don’t all women have vaginas?” I asked, staring at her.
“Fuck no. We just talked about this,” she replied, “This is why I can’t fuck with Harlowe. All Harlowe does is equate being a woman to bleeding and having certain body parts. Like, I’m so not with that. For me, womanhood is radical enough for anyone who dares to claim it.”

Also guys, there was an ENTIRE chapter on polyamory relationships and on MENSTRUATIONS. CAN YOU BELIVE THAT ?! In our society, periods are still really taboo even though they're the most natural thing ever. People need to talk about periods in books more often, because young ladies need to understand they have nothing to feel ashamed of.

Know your period as you know yourself. Touch the wobbling blobs of blood and tissue that escape and land intact on your favorite period panties. Note the shades of brown and purple and volcanic reds that gush, spill, and squirt out announcing themselves. Slide fingers deep inside your cunt and learn what your period feels like before it’s out of your body. Masturbate to ease cramps and meditate to soothe the spirit. Connect to your blood cycle. Build sacred rituals around your body during this time of renewal.

I wish I could do this book justice, I truly do, but I’m a terrible mess right now. I needed to read this book, because as a biracial bisexual woman I needed to feel like somebody had my back, and this book totally offered to watch it for me.

All of the women in my life were telling me the same thing. My story, my truth, my life, my voice, all of that had to be protected and put out into the world by me. No one else. No one could take that from me. I had to let go of my fear. I didn’t know what I was afraid of.

Also, Cece's review is so much better than mine, so go read it please, you won't regret it !
Profile Image for Vanessa North.
Author 44 books510 followers
February 21, 2016
Oh my heart.

Juliet is one of those heroines who is so wry and funny, but innocent too. The hours I spent with this book gave me a bit of my 19-year-old self back, and I’m going to try to talk about why—and how much it would have meant to me to read something like this then.

Juliet is looking for knowledge—she’s newly out, on a mission to discover how being a feminist and being a lesbian and being a round, brown girl all fit together, and she thinks she’s going to figure everything out in Portland, Oregon at the feet of the pussy lady, Harlowe Brisbane. At 19, I was a student in Asheville, North Carolina (like a southern, mini Portland) and there were a lot of Harlowe Brisbane types in my life. I loved how Juliet was open to confronting all the new concepts being thrown at her and how she filtered them through herself and embraced trying out even the ones she ultimately chose to reject. Juliet’s openness was part of what made her such a powerful personality to read.

That openness was full of vulnerability too. Knowledge is a currency, and people give it or with hold it with their own motivations and insecurities and intentions all twisted up together. There was this one scene where Juliet is humiliated and made to feel small because she doesn’t know everything—or even much of anything—about being queer. And I remembered back to 1996 and coming out to a lesbian friend in Asheville, and how she made me feel small and like I wasn’t a good enough queer because I was just “trying on bi.” That’s right, bi-erasure (not that I had that word yet) with a shame-cherry on top. So, when Juliet experienced something similar, I felt Juliet’s tears all the way back to the cruelty of that moment and how much it affected my relationships with other queer women for years. In that scene, I felt such a deep connection with Juliet, because I knew exactly how she felt. We think we’re safe around other queer people, that they can’t or won’t hurt us because they understand. It’s hard to learn, but we can be hurt just as much—and more—by cruelty within the queer community. I wish I could have read this twenty years ago!

And love. Oh love, love, love. I LOVE how this book talks about love. About familial love, and romantic love, and the feel of falling in love with someone through words. The fierce love of female friendship. The bittersweet urgent love of a summer fling. I’m a romance novelist for a living, so I spend a lot of time thinking about love, and how we show it, and how we know when we’re feeling it, and how we feel loved. Juliet is wise—Juliet knows you can feel love and be deeply loved all in one beautiful moment and that letting that moment be huge and awesome and everything—that’s putting love into the world. Juliet was sometimes scared and confused and often hurt, but she *loved*. And that's a special kind of fearlessness.

Perhaps some of the strongest and most important parts of this story are the parts I’m least qualified to comment on—I’m very much aware that while as a queer woman I related to Juliet on lots of levels, our experiences don’t intersect on race. I’ll just say this: Watching Juliet confront the racism in white feminism and take room for herself was wonderful.

All in all, I was charmed by this book. I laughed and I cried and I devoured it in a weekend. And I cannot wait to read whatever Gabby Rivera writes next.

Lastly—that cover? That cover is everything.

Recommended. :)
Profile Image for Erin .
1,231 reviews1,140 followers
September 4, 2019
Provided for FREE by Bookish.com

3.5 Stars.

Juliet Takes A Breath is unlike anything else I've read.

This book doesn't really have a plot other than following Juliet as she tries to figure who she is and what she believes. The synopsis on the back of the book only scratches the surface of all the things covered in this book.

I can see this book being intensely polarizing. I mean hell at several times as I read this book I thought I would give it 1 star and at other times I was convinced that I was reading a 5 star book.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this book but I did enjoy it and the writing was superb. I can definitely see myself rereading it and feeling completely different about it.

No rec.
Profile Image for Vicky Again.
595 reviews817 followers
October 5, 2020
I've read a lot of great books this year but this? This might just be my very favorite. I love so so many things about Juliet Takes a Breath and I'm reeling at how underrated this story is.

It's such a great coming of age story about a 19 year old in 2003 becoming acquainted with radical feminist theory and coming to terms with the ways she's been silenced or lied to. Juliet goes through so much learning and growth, which is already awesome, but what makes it such a fun story is her voice.

Juliet is hilarious, maybe a bit confused and brash sometimes, but she's fierce and curious and isn't afraid to chase after what she wants--whether that's an internship with a white-feminist author, or a fling with a hot motorcycle-riding librarian. She's such a wonderful main character to read about and I absolutely adored following her and her journey.

I'd highly recommend Juliet Takes a Breath to so many people. If you read contemporary YA, you need to read this.

A quick update: The edition (finished US ebook) that I read did not have the anti-Indigenous quotes that were discussed in older reviews (the passage was updated from what other reviewers had read), however this does not negate the treatment and silencing of Indigenous reviewers when they criticized Juliet Takes a Breath, nor does it negate the fact that anti-Indigenous sentiments existed in this book at one point in time. Although I did not find anything objectionable in the edition I read, I don't think this excuses the harm done to Indigenous people who gave honest critique and were silenced and never compensated for something that was changed in the final text. Please keep this in mind if you read.
Profile Image for Julio Genao.
Author 9 books1,988 followers
February 26, 2016
dare you to read the introduction in the free sample and not immediately want to read this book.

Profile Image for Rayna.
387 reviews27 followers
October 30, 2019
This poorly-written, incoherent mess is what you get when someone who writes television show recaps for Autostraddle and learns everything about gender, sexuality, and politics from Tumblr blogs decides to write a book.

Some key highlights:

- Random naked man appearing in a house inhabited by lesbians and not being swiftly kicked out

- "So Juliet, how do you identify? What are your preferred gender pronouns?" [...] "I'm sorry, what? How do I identify what?" [...] "Oh c'mon, do you identify as queer? As a dyke? Are you trans?" he asked, spitting phrases at me, amused by my ignorance. "And PGPs are so important even though I think we should drop preferred and call them mandatory gender pronouns. So, are you she, he, ze, they?"

- ""Lesbian, Bilitis, dyke;" Why didn't words for gay women ever sound beautiful?"

- "...as a queer person, I have this opportunity to deconstruct and potentially abolish heteronormative relationship structures and create relationship models that work for me, that work for my needs and that don't rely on mimicking straight codes of conduct. Codes that often adhere to strict and archaic gender roles, imbalances of power, and this idea that one half of the relationship is in charge of the other. All of us have the radical power to enter into relationships based solely on honesty and respect with immeasurable reverence to sexual and emotional intimacy. We can decide whether we want to love one person for life, find a good thing with someone that opens itself up to several other love things with other beautiful humans, or something else entirely." - a lesbian character describing why she's polyamorous

- "Know your period as you know yourself. Touch the wobbling blobs of blood and tissue that escape and land intact on your favorite period panties. Note the shades of brown and purple and volcanic reds that gush, spill, and squirt out announcing themselves. Slide fingers deep inside your cunt and learn what your period feels like before it's out of your body. Masturbate to ease cramps and meditate to soothe the spirit. Connect to your blood cycle. Build sacred rituals around your body during this time of renewal." - Harlowe Brisbane, in Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind
Who says radical feminists have the license on vulva worship? 😂

- The book expecting me to feel bad for Juliet after Lainie cheated on her, even though Juliet was fully intending to cheat on Lainie with the new girl she met at the library. No mention was made about discussing polyamory beforehand.

- Nobody in this book has heard of the word "bisexual." Juliet's cousin says "I'm basically attracted to everyone and lots of times no one at all. I don't think there's a word for that."
There is. It's called bisexuality.
Later on Juliet asks her aunt, now married to a man, if her fling with a woman in her youth was "just a phase" and her aunt replies "I don't know" and "I didn't have a name for it so I just let myself feel it."
Once again, it's called bisexuality.

- Juliet's cousin Ava saying that her problem with Harlowe's brand of white feminism with regard to her book is that she "didn't make queer and or trans women of color a priority in her work."
Queers still haven't figured out that stringing together as many oppressed identities as they can think of doesn't create an argument. Harlowe is a lesbian and she writes about lesbianism. According to the queer logic that lumps together every non-heterosexual and non-traditional identity, Harlowe falls under the "queer" umbrella, so the complaint about her not prioritising "queer" women literally makes no sense. And it's clear from the comments of Ava and other characters that we're supposed to agree that women aren't allowed to write books about their bodies without paying homage to dick.

- "I learned that a trans person was someone who was assigned the wrong gender by a doctor at birth."
Doctors don't "assign" you a gender at birth, they observe and identify your sex.

- "Ava talked about people I'd never heard of like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. They were trans women of color and helped start the Stonewall Riots."
Both of them were actually gay men in drag...and neither of them were even there when the riots started. Unsurprisingly, there's no mention of Stormé DeLarverie.

- To the author's credit, she does mention the Daughters of Bilitis, a pre-Stonewall lesbian feminist group, but that doesn't make up for the heaps of factually incorrect information and misinformation that show she has little knowledge of gay and lesbian history (American or otherwise) and less mainstream branches of feminism (American or otherwise).

- The book was written in 2016 but it takes place in 2003, which makes the gender nonsense at least a decade ahead of its time.

- "Um, Ava, don't all women have vaginas?" I asked, staring at her.
"Fuck no. We just talked about this," she replied. "This is why I can't fuck with Harlowe. All Harlowe does is equate being a woman to bleeding and having certain body parts. Like, I'm so not with that. For me, womanhood is radical enough for anyone who dares to claim it."
What does this mean?

- The most surprising thing about this book is that Harlowe herself isn't written as this "exclusionary" bad white feminist that everyone is meant to hate; I mean 98% of her dialogue is ridiculous but she's written as this weird but well-meaning hippie woman that Juliet admires, and who tries but makes mistakes.

- There's very little storyline to speak of. The few things that could have been developed into something deeper and more interesting, like Juliet getting to know Kira, were overshadowed by the author whacking you over the head with gender and queer theory. Seriously, every character speaks as if they're reciting Tumblr posts.
Profile Image for Dahlia.
Author 19 books2,394 followers
May 3, 2017
I liked this so much. The voice is killer and so, so fresh, and you know how sometimes when a book is one of the first of its kind it tries to do everything and ends up feeling really didactic and just fails so hard? This is one of the few books I've actually seen succeed - in the way it addresses the needs of PoC-only spaces and the propagation of white and trans-exclusionary feminism and anti-Blackness and just...so many things that are all over my Twitter feed but rarely seem to make it to commercial YA/NA literature, especially with a queer POV. It's so inclusive in a way that never feels tokenistic, even if it's not always 100% in its depiction. (There's one paragraph in which Juliet's at her aunt and uncle's, and her uncle is Jewish so they're eating Shabbat dinner, and it's just so cute. For the record, holding hands is totally a Christian thing and not a thing Jewish people do when we bless food, but like, just seeing the word Shabbat in a book is so freaking nice. Jewish rep is usually in the form, of, like, someone referring to their bat mitzvah money.)

I don't wanna be that white girl who's like ALL WOMEN OF COLOR SHOULD READ THIS, but I will say that if you've been desperately looking for #ownvoices QPoC rep in YA/NA, this is an excellent one to pick up, and I imagine it'd be a pretty damn cathartic read for many.

ETA: I will happily be that white girl that says ALL WHITE WOMEN SHOULD READ THIS. So, ALL WHITE WOMEN SHOULD READ THIS. Wanna understand the difference between white feminism and actual intersectionality? Hiiiiiii this should help.
Profile Image for Naz (Read Diverse Books).
120 reviews261 followers
July 8, 2016
For an in-depth review, visit my blog. Read Diverse Books

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.
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
May 5, 2017
Thanks to the publisher for my netgalley arc!

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first: this book is fairly plotless. Despite its short length, I found myself bored for most of the first half.

However, my disapointment at the plot was outshined by my love for pretty much everything else.

The character work here is sublime. Juliet is a funny and believable protagonist. Her emotional journey was easy to connect with, and I’m sure it will be for anyone who feels disenfranchised in society. This is Juliet's specific journey as a lesbian woman of color, and the author makes that very clear. Yet I was constantly impressed that Rivera managed to make this journey so specific yet so universal.

The side characters shined here too. All were complex and developed, even in very little page time. I feel like I know these women. I feel like Gabby Rivera knows these women. I was just incredibly impressed by the amount I connected to this story.

The integration of social issues here was also amazing. I’ve never read a book that represented so many issues so well. There’s a focus on lgbt issues, on women’s issues, on how women’s issues and trans issues need to be connected, and on racism issues. It’s revolutionary that this book got published by an agency. Juliet would be proud.

I almost wish Juliet’s brave women heroes had been integrated more into the latter half of the book. It seemed like an amazing concept that almost got abandoned. I understand why it happened, though; there was a lot to resolve in the latter half. Again, the pacing needed a little editing. But everything else was just amazing.

div17: ownvoices
Profile Image for Anniek.
1,762 reviews649 followers
September 16, 2020
Read this in one sitting but it really wasn't for me as a non-binary reader. I struggle a lot with feminism in the first place, and this has the worst kind. And yes, it was challenged. But only at the very end and it wasn't enough for me.

For example: it was all very focused on equating body parts and menstruation to womanhood, which is downright violent to trans people. The book doesn't condone this! But I didn't think it did a good enough job at explaining the problem with it.
February 11, 2018
This is such an important and fantastic novel. I devoured this novel in a few sittings and this one that will surely stick with you go a while. This is more than a story about being a lesbian and a feminist, this is a story about being true to yourself!
Profile Image for Renae.
1,013 reviews263 followers
July 27, 2020
This book is doing so many great things. Wonderful things. Coming of age, coming into feminism, coming into queerdom, discussions of intersectionality and privilege. Sexy makeout sesh with the sexy motorcycle-riding librarian. Juliet Takes a Breath is doing some really great things. And it's clearly heavily inspired by the author's own experiences doing the "Puerto Rican lesbian thing". It's great, I love all this.

But it doesn't read like a novel. There are passages upon passages where a character holds forth and spouts what feels like a chapter of a queer theory or feminist theory textbook, verbatim. Didacticism with excellent intentions—that describes this book in a nutshell. I'm sorry but there it is.

Did it have great things going for it? Hell yes. Would I read more books about Badass Latina Lesbians from Rivera? Yup. Would I describe Juliet Takes a Breath as a masterpiece of literary craft? Nope.


📌 . Blog | Review Database | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads
Profile Image for Julio Genao.
Author 9 books1,988 followers
Want to read
February 5, 2016
that cover is fantastic. and so is the foreword.

i will make this book mine.
Profile Image for Danielle (Life of a Literary Nerd).
1,171 reviews251 followers
June 4, 2017
3.5 Stars
Read everything you can push into your skull. Read your mother’s diary. Read Assata. Read everything Gloria Steinem and bell hooks write. Read all of the poems your friends leave in your locker. Read books about your body written by people who have bodies like yours. Read everything that supports your growth as a vibrant, rebel girl human. Read because you’re tired of secrets.

This books was a ride for me. I could not stand Harlowe Brisbane or her damn book so I almost DNF’d this after chapter 2, but I am glad my sister pushed me to keep going because I really loved it. Juliet Takes a Breath is a moving and powerful story of self-discovery, growth, expectations, and feminism. Juliet’s story felt so honest and raw, it truly captivates you as she learns to love herself.

Things I Liked :
Juliet’s journey is beautiful and powerful. I loved seeing her discover feminism, what it means to her, and where she fits into this larger movement. I also really loved that she learns from her family and she has a support system around her, ready to uplift and encourage her.

The feminist and queer ideologies are very accessible for every reader. Juliet learns and absorbs so much - about non-white revolutionists, polyamorous and other non-heteronormative relationships, safe spaces, trans rights, allies. Juliet’s eyes are opened to a world she didn’t know existed and she craves knowledge and understanding. Everything is explained very clearly and respectfully, so those new to feminism can easy understand the topics and grow in knowledge like Juliet.

I also loved how Juliet’s relationship with her mom developed. We see their relationship go through so much and in the end, her mom helps propel her forward, and encourages her to reinvent her own world and not rely on others to do so.

I LOVED that they called out the white feminism EVERY TIME. The characters in the story were openly critical of the exclusionary and dismissive white feminist nonsense and actively challenged that white feminism was universal. It was just so great to see.

Things I Didn’t Like :
You already now I hated Harlowe. Everytime she was in a scene I just got angry - and don’t even get me started on her dumbass book. First of all, it reminded me so much of the book Rachel reads in Friends-Be Your Own Windkeeper. I felt like they were basically interchangeable. On a more critical note, Raging Flower reeked of privilege. Highlighting women’s divine essence and power, and their cosmic sisterhood, while not confronting any of the systemic or political oppression women - especially non-white women - face was infuriating. Yes camaraderie and self empowerment are important, but I HATED how Juliet upheld her book as a bastion of feminist literature and Harlowe was iconicized for her mediocrity. It was not unrealistic though, and Harlowe/her book was called out several times so I really appreciated that. I also HATED her half assed apology to Juliet after the incident at the book reading. She literally said she didn’t think she said anything wrong or mean about Juliet and I couldn’t believe it.

I felt Juliet was very naive. I understand that this is the story of her journey to discover more about feminism and where she fit in, but it didn’t feel like she was in college to me. She says she met Lainie in a Women’s Studies class, but she still knew virtually nothing about feminism, or the fallacies of the US government, at all. It was a little unbelievable to me. I also didn’t like her thoughts about the Native American genocide being an accident, and how Harlowe and Maxine’s poly relationship meant her crushes on Kira and Maxine, while still loving Lainie, was okay - it felt like she was trying to justify emotionally cheating to me, while not being open with all parties. It was also hard for me to believe that Juliet’s only resource on feminist literature was Raging Flower - even in Harlowe’s book she says to read books and resources from a wide range of people, so I couldn't believe that Juliet hadn’t taken that advice to heart.

This was a tough reading experience for me, but I am really happy I finished the book. Juliet’s story is honest and gripping and unapologetically queer. Juliet celebrates the queerness in her own life and in the community she discovers. I loved going on this journey with Juliet and seeing her come into her own and learn to love who she is.

I received a copy of the book from Riverdale Avenue Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for emma.
152 reviews569 followers
September 21, 2017
4.5 stars.

For me, womanhood is radical enough for anyone who dares to claim it.

Yes, hello, I’m back here again with a mini review bc my life is crazy busy and I’m v behind on these!! it hurts my heart that I don’t have enough time to write this book the long and beautiful review it deserves, but please just know that I genuinely believe everyone should read it !!!!!!!

A very brief (and vague) summary:

As a lesbian latinx woman from the Bronx, Juliet thinks she has a reasonable understanding of womanhood, queerness, and her identity as a woman of color. She arrives in Portland, Oregon for a summer internship with Harlow Brisbane—the author of one of her favorite books, and resident feminist icon—believing that working with her idol will help her to figure out her life, whatever that means. Once she arrives, though, Juliet realizes that neither Harlowe, Portland, or herself are quite what she imagined.

That was a purposefully vague summary, because this is a very hard book to describe. It’s largely plotless, which is something that often annoys me, but it worked perfectly in this case. It’s a very character-based coming-of-age story about a girl learning to understand her own identity, and how she fits into the larger world. This is an internal book, one that focuses on personal experiences and challenging one’s own preconceptions. Rivera’s characters are flawed. They are problematic sometimes. They fuck up, they say offensive shit, but most importantly their words are challenged and they learn to know and be better.

The entire book is super, super diverse—the MC is lesbian and Puerto Rican, and literally almost every single other character is queer, poc, and/or female !!!! (This is also ownvoices rep, as the author herself is a queer latina woman. In an author’s note, she states that much of Juliet’s story was inspired by people or events in her own life.) There’s also a Korean-American romantic interest, a poly relationship, queer female friendships, and multiple f/f romantic relationships (although the focus of this book is never really romance).

There are multiple sections that include rather long explanations about sexuality, gender identity, feminism, and racial discrimination/microaggressions—just to name a few of the issues this book tackles—so it may come across as a little overexplanatory if you’re already v familiar with these topics. I think they’re all incorporated quite well into the story, though, and could potentially be super helpful for any readers who are just starting to understand these subjects.

There were a few plot and character threads that seemed to pop up and disappear, like Juliet’s projecting researching inspiring female figures, but overall I really don’t have any major complaints about this. It was absolutely fantastic, and all I want is to run around gifting beautiful copies of it to every single person I know!!!

I’m realizing now that this isn’t much of a mini review, but I’m gonna cut myself off here bc if I let myself go on about this book for much longer I’ll never get around to posting this review soooooo

I’ll leave you with a few more lovely quotes:

We are not damaged. We have suffered from the brutality of an inherently violent system that favors maleness over womanhood. We’ve been victimized but that doesn’t make us all victims. We’re not the outcomes of what men have done to us. I refuse to be reduced to that.

“You are your own person, Juliet. If it’s a phase, so what? If it’s your whole life, who cares? You’re destined to evolve and understand yourself in ways you never imagined before. And you’ve got our blood running through your beautiful veins, so no matter what, you’ve been blessed with the spirit of women who know how to love.”

Kiss everyone. Ask first. Always ask first and then kiss the way stars burn in the sky.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
750 reviews202 followers
August 7, 2016
4.5* - Not perfect, but I loved it.

"Feminism. I’m new to it. The word still sounds weird and wrong. Too white, too structured, too foreign: something I can’t claim. I wish there was another word for it. Maybe I need to make one up. My mom’s totally a feminist but she never uses that word. She molds my little brother’s breakfast eggs into Ninja Turtles and pays all the bills in the house. She’s this lady that never sleeps because she’s working on a Master’s Degree while raising my little brother and me and pretty much balancing the rhythm of an entire family on her shoulders. That’s a feminist, right? But my mom still irons my Dad’s socks. So what do you call that woman? You know, besides Mom."

When I first looked into picking up Juliet Takes a Breath, I came across a review that described this book as the female version of The Catcher in the Rye. My immediate reaction was "Oh, good grief, noooooo!" and I instantly wanted to cancel the sample that had just been delivered to my kindle.

However, I read the first few pages and was kinda hooked by the voice of Juliet, a 19-year-old Latina, living in the Bronx. The book starts with Juliet writing a letter to the author of her favourite book, a book that she originally started reading as a joke, but that turned out to have such an impact on her that she started to question her view of life.

"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 guess, this is where the similarities with Holden Caulfield start. But, really, this is also where they end. Where Holden dismisses the believes of others over his own somewhat narrow-minded ideas, which are based on his misinterpretation of the Burns poem (which he never really bothers to find out more about), Juliet wants to learn more about the ideas in the book that she regards as her "Bible" and manages to arrange an internship with its author.

And so Juliet's huge road trip begins. She moves to Portland (OR) for the summer to help her author gather material for a new book, and by doing so learn more about herself, her family, her relationships with others, her place in the world, and as with all good coming-of-age stories, she learns that stories change depending on whose narrative is given a voice.

"Who were these women? I didn’t recognize any of their faces. How could I be 19 and not know any of them? I’d always done all of my homework, read all of the books assigned in school and yet, here was a world full of possibly iconic ladies I knew nothing about."

Unlike The Catcher in the Rye, which was a painful read because I mostly remember wanting to smack Holden with his own book, I could hardly wait to pick up Juliet Takes a Breath in my spare time. A couple of nights sleep may have suffered also, but it was such good fun reading this, that I really didn't mind.

I'm looking forward to more of Gabby Rivera's writing.

"It made me wonder about all the ways that we are able to love each other and how movies and TV make it seem like you have to discard people once they break your heart or once the love disappears. Maybe that was a horrible lie, a complete disservice to real love."
Profile Image for Xan.
619 reviews274 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
June 23, 2017
DNF 4%

I tried to read this book 5 times. Each time I could not get past 4%. The writing is compelling, the voice is strong, there is a lovely humor to it. I could not get past the way it constantly said that vagina=woman. It was like a constant blast of equating genitals and gender, a wall of cissexism I kept hitting up against. After speaking to others who read the book, I was told that this framework is never challenged and exists throughout the book. So I decided to DNF. Since then, some folks have said that it was challenged later in the book, and some have said that it was challenged a bit but not enough for them. There is no clear agreement on this question from other readers.

I may pick up the book again if I am in a different place where I am more up for tolerating the cissexism at the beginning of the book.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,230 reviews2,212 followers
May 4, 2017

**I received this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

I had a LOT of problems with this book.

I appreciate the ending, and if I hadn't completed this book I would have DNFed it with 1 star, but the ending had a discussion of a couple things I had problems with. But, it didn't completely redeem it considering the author didn't make it clear at the beginning that these ideas that she was writing about weren't necessarily good.

My biggest problem with this book was that, if I was a young girl reading about feminism for the first time in this novel, or a young lesbian girl reading about it for the first time, I would have a VERY swayed idea on what I was supposed to be thinking.

In the first 75% of this novel we follow Juliet - a young, lesbian Latina girl who is obsessed with a book on Feminism and has gotten an internship with the author - Harlowe. The author is HORRIBLE - like, 99% of my issues with this book come from the author. Harlowe is racist, transphobic, man-hating and the most stereotypical "feminist" ever - but not actual feminist, the type of feminist most people think of and most people HATE. Harlowe believes that to be a woman you have to have a vagina and a menstrual cycle. Harlowe completely stereotypes Juliet as a latina girl "dodging bullets in the Bronx." And overall, throughout the first 3/4 of this novel, she's teaching Juliet how to be an angry, man hating "feminist."

Like legit, this book was RIDICULOUS on how stereotypical it was being. Harlowe being so hippiedippy literally had me rolling my eyes every time she spoke, and how she seemed to think that hugging trees was going to fix Juliet's asthma and spiritual rituals and masturbation were the only ways to get rid of cramps. And omg she was so man hating I hated it so much I wanted to go into the book and strangle her.

The book redeemed itself in the latter part where Juliet goes and visits her cousin and aunt who explain what being Transgender is, what preferred pronouns are, and that you don't need a label for everything - you don't have to be a crazy lesbian, or straight, or bi, or anything, you can just be yourself. And that was a FABULOUS message. BUT OF COURSE IT DOESN'T MATTER THAT MUCH CAUSE JULIET GOES RIGHT BACK TO HARLOWE AND HER FUCKED UP FEMINISM.

Also a few much less important aspects I hated: Juliet has asthma yet seemed to be smoking cigarettes and pot every time I turned around; why are all feminists in this book lesbians who are high 24/7; wtf was even the point of the character Phen at the beginning?; emotional cheating is still cheating I swear to fucking gosh I was about to scream; the conversation about religion half way through this book make me want to rip my hair out.

Some parts that were redeemable about this book: the part with the cousin and aunt explaining things to Juliet; the writing in this book was pretty great; the conversation of feminism representing EVERYONE; own voices; basically just the conversation this book brings up is GREAT.

I'm not sure if I really recommend this book. I DEFINITELY would NOT recommend to people who are new to feminism of LGBT books because this one SUCKED. I guess go ahead and try reading it if you know a good deal about what you're getting into because this was some great own voices/diverse reading. but other than that... just no.
Profile Image for Julia.
75 reviews99 followers
February 10, 2017
I have no idea where to begin talking about this book. I just have so much love for it right now I wish I could walk up to Gabby Rivera and give her a damn tight hug as a thank you.

If I'd gotten my hands on this book a few years ago, when I was lost like Juliet about feminism and lgbt+ related subjects, it would've been for me what Raging Flower was to her, but so much better. It felt like a love letter to latina lesbians. It is a fantastic book for girls in general, regardless of ethnicity, sexuality or gender, but as a latina lesbian, it felt like something special for girls like me, and that's not something we get very often. The way it was written, filled with terms and phrases in Spanish without much explanation or translations, the way these women spoke and joked about white people shit, and everything about Juliet's family — if I didn't already know the writer was a queer latina woman, I would've guessed it by the time I reached the second chapter.

Juliet Milagros Palante very easily earned her spot in my mental list of favorite protagonists ever. She was everything. She was dealing with so much at the same time throughout this story and I wanted to pull her into my arms and protect her, but also I knew she was going to be okay. Every chapter kept making me love her more just when I thought that wasn't possible. I don't know how to describe her other than saying she was so fucking real. Brave as hell but scared and vulnerable. Sometimes she'd stand up for herself and sometimes she'd cry on her cousin's shoulder, and she was so damn believable and relatable. Her determination on the quest of finding herself, her thirst for knowledge about her community and identity, her respect for new things that she didn't really understand just yet such as polyamory and gender pronouns, her love and admiration for the women that crossed her way, her adorable shyness around cute girls. Every part of her beautifully written personality was worth of praise.

And I cannot remember the last time I read a book with such spectacular supporting characters. Every single one of them was wildly important to Juliet's journey, and at the same time, they made me wish desperately for new books where it's their turn to be the protagonist. And Ava, holy shit. At each of her appearances I'd stop and hope from the bottom of my heart that Rivera will consider blessing me with a whole book about her story someday. When Juliet asked herself why she didn't go spend her summer with Ava in Miami instead, I nearly wept just thinking about how fucking fantastic that book would've been as well. Ava warmed my heart with her love for Juliet and for queer people of color and her patience and care with Juliet's doubts and insecurities and her hilarious one-liners. Viva la revolución, Ava.

Besides all of the stuff I've mentioned above, this book was also a very entertaining and well written lesson on intersectional feminism. I was wary as hell of Harlowe's brand of hippy vagina-centric menstruation-loving feminism and some weird ass excerpts from her book, but from the very beginning, with the email Juliet wrote to her, I felt safe to believe it wasn't all going to be like that, and it was so delightful to be proven right. In the end, even Harlowe turned out to be an interesting, likeable character — flawed, but with good intentions and open-minded enough to listen and learn where her behavior needed fixing. Amongst the adult badass lesbians, though, Maxine was the real star for me, and Juliet's little crush on her was totally understandable. She and Zaria were so smart and wonderful and caring and, again, I want another book about them too. Along with Ava, and Kira, oh sweet loving Kira, they played the role of raising awareness to intersectionality and the importance of having spaces for people who really understand your struggles and not just preach about sisterhood.

I was so excited when I noticed there was going to be some romance. I'm a sucker for romantic storylines in pretty much everything, but I was ready to read this without any expectations for stuff like that, and then Kira showed up. I'll just say that, even if it wasn't the main focus of the story, Rivera writes fluffy romance damn well.

I think I'm done here. Short version: this book has the potential to be legitimately life-changing for girls in situations similar to Juliet's, and I hope they get the opportunity to read it.
Profile Image for Cory.
Author 1 book398 followers
December 27, 2018
Yesterday my girlfriend and I finally decided to get library cards. With little to no impulse control, I excitedly grabbed about ten books and had to be dragged away when told that I could actually check out fifty.

Juliet Takes a Breath was the first book I decided to read out of that stack. Usually when it takes me one day to read a book it means it was so all encompassing and interesting that I could not pull my eyes away from the page. In this respect, it's somewhat true that JTaB was interesting—only in that I could not understand that I was reading a book written by an adult and not the first writing project of a teen who just discovered queer theory on tumblr.

As I read the book, I occasionally would throw out quotes to my girlfriend as I literally could not believe I was reading a published book. I've read lesbian fan fiction better than this book—no joke, before you waste your time on this book read this
Santana/Quinn fan fiction that actually makes you feel genuine emotion. It's also set in New York City (aren't all Glee fan fictions?) and it explores the complexity of emotion associated with being lost and gay without attempting to soapbox at you for 260 pages. Granted the last chapter is a bit heavy on the drama, but its a Glee fan fiction. If you're into Hispanic culture and don't mind reading about gay boys, you could give Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe a spin. It's got body.

Or you could read
The Mis-Education of Cameron Post which to this day remains hands down the best written book about a lesbian of all time. A book so great that Gabby Rivera's own employer, Autostraddle, gushed about it ad-infinitum to the point where I thought Emily Danforth had written a sequel. Not that Autostraddle has actually produced content that appeals to non-kinky 20 something gays like myself who just want to feel like we aren't lost in a sea of ddlg BDSM sex kinks that include straight poly people as queer and force us so-called "assimilationist" gays to the side. Basically those of us who don't have full ride scholarships, or parents with money, or who just aren't willing to shave our heads and dye them with the trans flag. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate those things but sometimes it feels like the aesthetic includes more straight people who think they're queer than actual gays who have to fit in to survive. Being black and gay is hard enough in this world. Some of us can't afford to throw Socialist Queer Rallies and work in coffee shops while we progress our writing careers. Quite frankly, being poor kinda sucks.

Anyway. Let me back up a little. I didn't know Gabby Rivera wrote for Autostraddle when I started reading this book. In fact, I mixed this book up with Girl Mans Up which is about a Canadian lesbian and looks like it could be awesome or awful depending on whether the author was writing a "how to be gay" manual or an actual fucking story.

So, Juliet Takes A Breath is about Juliet, a 19-year old Puerto-Rican gay from the Bronx in 2003 who lives on a block with crackheads, 17-year old prostitutes, and assholes who grab up their dicks in the grocery store in an attempt to impress (?) assault (?) our main character. Juliet goes to college in Maryland, has a girlfriend, isn't out to her parents, and is way way into this book called Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy By Empowering Your Mind. The book sounds straight out of the second wave feminist movement (ie, incredibly dated) as some chapters open with a quote from said fictitious book about pulling blood clots out of your vulva to observe in the act of being a ferocious cunt. I can not make this shit up.

Juliet is enamored with this book and the author, Harlowe Brisbane. So much so that she writes to Harlowe to ask if she can intern for her for the summer for college credit. Harlowe says yes and invites Juliet to spend the summer with her in Portland, Oregon—a place so magical to naive Juliet that she imagines it to be flush with naked lesbians frolicking in the forest. Which, to be honest, is kind of what the book thinks Portland is. Now, I was born in 1994 which means I was nine in 2003 but according to this book Portland was a hotbed of multi-cultural lesbians popping out and trying to consensually and awkwardly get your number and fuck you in the shower at every turn.

Before she leaves for Portland, Juliet comes out to her family. All of them, with the exception of her mother take it well and while one would think this is a contentious corner stone for the book—considering how much emphasis is placed on family and Puerto Rico—we barely get any conversations of merit between Juliet and her mother at all.

I am not Hispanic. Yet, if I were, I'd feel so cheated by the lack of genuine cultural connection to anything at all in this book. For a book that talks so much about PoC and intersectionality this felt milquetoast at best. I grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood and I used to live in a Dominican neighborhood earlier this year. In New York City. The very place this narrator is supposed to come from. And it didn't feel genuine. She gets super excited about Lolita Lebrón for five seconds and that's it. For fucks sake, this girl did not know what a Banana Republic was until she researched Lolita Lebrón and concluded that colonization was bad and we never hear anything about her connection to her culture again.

This entire book could be summarized, culturally, by the fact that a woman named Lupe does acupuncture on her once (which is traditional Chinese medicine if I'm not mistaken?) and she sees her cousin wearing a shirt that says "Bruja" so in the appendix she, too, concludes that she is a Bruja despite the fact that we have no understanding of what this means to her, if she even practices magic, and sigh—it feels like white girls who call themselves wiccan and wear pentagrams despite never reading a book about wicca or pagans or even the damn bible. It makes me wonder if its even possible to appropriate your own culture because this girl calling herself a Bruja reminds me of black dudes calling themselves Pharaohs and Nubian kings even though we all know that most of us are from Cameroon and Angola and they've not bothered to even learn about the native cultures there.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Gabi, a Girl in Pieces put this mess to shame in terms of allowing me, a cultural outsider, a peak into it feels like to be a strong willed, intelligent Mexican-American woman. Juliet Takes A Breath feels like a white woman writing about what it feels like to be Puerto Rican, which is a shame because Gabby Rivera is actually Puerto Rican.

This leads me to my main problem with the novel. Instead of reading like a novel, it reads like most gay books of the early 2000's: a sounding board for the author's thesis on being queer.

So, because this book is for you, the reader, to absorb everything Gabby Rivera has ever learned about being queer (because an artificial hierarchy is drawn between queers and gays to equate the latter with white sellouts), Juliet can't actually know anything. So, despite having actually stepped foot in Stonewall, she doesn't know what Stonewall was about. Everyone is so condescending to this poor, ignorant girl I couldn't decide if she was dumb or if the author didn't actually know what living in 2003 was like. Not that I do, but I know how ignorant we teens were in 2011.

The terminology used is very tumblr circa 2013-14. Which doesn't make sense. Juliet doesn't know what micro-aggressions are, what preferred pronouns are, what polyamory is, what gender identity is, what gender essentialism is, what radical politics are, etc.. etc... But she knows who Alan Ginsberg is and she's really into second wave feminism. In 2003. Yet everyone treats her like an idiot because she doesn't know what the aforementioned buzzwords mean when they weren't really a hit with the teens until tumblr discourse came into play.

Essentially, this novel could take place at any point in time except for the fact Juliet sends her girlfriend mixtapes. A girl actually sent me a mixtape a few years back, but it was through 8tracks so the gays are still into that, I suppose. Thank god there was no Ani DiFranco on it.

Gayness, as presented in this book, is something powerful and radical. Quite like the state of being a woman in the 80's if you were into more radical feminism. Smash the patriarchy, smash heteronormativity, smash monogamy, smash clothing, smash gender (except, respect gender too), smash capitalism, etc, etc..... These are all things I can accept for individuals except they are displayed as the One True way to be gay. Trans Anarcho-Socialists exist, yes. I used to be friends with some. But they are not the majority of gays and they do not hold the keys to the kingdom. If I'd read this book when I was 16 and was also as naive as Juliet I'd have come away thinking something was entirely wrong with me for not wanting to having 3 girlfriends, live on a communist farm (I think the writer meant a commune but fuck if I know), and write about the dignity of my feminist vagina power except also to be inclusive I should include girl!dick as well. Which, nothing wrong with girl!dick, but it leads me to my final point about this novel.

This book, as a whole, and probably why it feels so disjointed and awkward, is basically a treatise against white privilege and white feminism with a nod towards trans inclusion and the banishment of vagina-centric feminism. Which is great. If it weren't attacking an idea that was popularized in the 1980's and has mostly taken a fall since then as we've moved more towards criticizing the other blend of second wave "I can fuck 30 men and and still be an empowered cool girl" commercial feminism that rose in response to the vagina-centric, transphobic, all sex is rape Andrea Dworkin feminism.

The book feels both late and early. Third-Wave feminism came about in 1993, about ten years before this book takes place. We had already moved beyond hippy dippy white woman vagina flower bullshit. I have no idea why Raging Flower would've suddenly become popular when in 1993 Rebecca Walker wrote this: "So I write this as a plea to all women, especially the women of my generation: Let Thomas’ confirmation serve to re-mind you, as it did me, that the fight is far from over. Let this dismissal of a woman’s experience move you to anger. Turn that outrage into political power. Do not vote for them unless they work for us. Do not have sex with them, do not break bread with them, do not nurture them if they don’t prioritize our freedom to control our bodies and our lives."

Two years later, in 2005, Ariel Levy wrote Female Chauvinist Pigs, a takedown of the culture that Gillian Flynn described in Gone Girl: "Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl."

I don't disagree with taking down white feminism but the argument against it is so misplaced and disjointed for the time that it feels like a strawman. Were white lesbian feminists talking about pulling blood clots out of their vaginas, saying pussy, and getting mass acclaim for it back then? I don't know, but it just feels off.

The books is clearly anti-TERF (trans-exclusionary feminism) yet it fails to mention them by name. I'm not trans so I'm not going to speak for trans people (go to Contrapoints instead, she's great, though she also insists that she doesn't speak for all trans people), but the book makes some large claims regarding the strawman it created in Raging Flower. Yes, vagina feminism can be problematic. But, quite frankly, the majority of women have vaginas. Legislation is drafted to tell us what we can and can't do with them. We are shamed for having them, shamed for being interested in knowing how they function, and shamed for even referring to them with the correct words (Vagina, Vulva, etc) on the senate floor. Yes, feminism should be inclusive of all women, which includes trans women as they are women, no debate on that point. BUT this novel never elaborated on why vagina feminism is actually harmful to trans women in terms of battling TERFs. It simply stated that Raging Flower didn't mention trans people enough. Despite the fact that book is literally for women who have vaginas. Empowering Your Pussy is in the subtitle of this fake book.

I just... don't understand...

And then the book tries to roll back on that by having Juliet question if white people should write for everyone or write to their own experience and it starts feeling like Gabby Rivera got lost in her own theory and decided to stop thinking critically about the subject for fear of offending someone.

We also get a few random moments of Juliet freaking out because she thinks Harlowe is racist to state that she lives in a ghetto. She literally leaves the bookstore, runs away, has sex, and flies to Miami. She has an entire shit fit because someone "judged her" and was supposedly racist in assuming that she lived in a ghetto. I had to double check the first chapter of this book to make sure that she actually grew up in the shit part of the Bronx and not like... Astoria.

I repeat: Juliet lives on a block with crackheads, 17-year old prostitutes, and assholes who grab up their dicks in the grocery store in an attempt to impress (?) assault (?) her.

I don't know about you, but I've lived in a ghetto and while my dad got his windows shot out regularly we didn't have crackheads prowling the streets with 17-year-old prostitutes. I saw a crackhead on the train a few weeks ago. She just sat down right next to me and whipped out her crackpipe and started puffing away. That was surprising and certainly not normal for Harlem which leads me to believe that Juliet a) lives in a shit neighborhood, and b) is in deep denial. Like, yes I get it—white people are clueless and think they're so great and awesome for saving poor underprivileged kids and whatever. I would feel absolutely offended if some white woman said she saved me from the ghetto because for the great majority of my life I've lived in white neighborhoods. But Juliet—you live in a literal ghetto with crack heads and child prostitutes. You have a full ride scholarship to a fancy liberal arts school because you are poor. Sanctimonious much?

It's like Gabby Rivera had so many ideas but could not express a single one of them with clarity or wit. She spends a few pages talking about blackness and how white people assume that because you're black you must always want to be into black things. Which is valid, except the character in question is actually running the black event that the white character suggests she go to which we find out a few chapters after she takes such a huge offense to the pamphlet she was given about said event!

At a certain point I spent a few paragraphs just reading the shitty parts out loud to my girlfriend in an effort to prevent myself from slamming the book against my forehead. Apparently your hips can wrap around your partners waist when you're getting fingered. I tried that after I read the passage aloud with my girlfriend and it was awkward AF. Don't recommend. The sex scenes weren't entirely laughable but they certainly weren't titillating either. Which is sad, because I thought Gabby Rivera was a lesbian. Straight women have written better sex scenes between men.

Anyway, the only positive thing I can find myself saying about this book is that Lil' Melvin was a good character. I liked him and his twix bars and the fact that he was totally into Animorphs. Lil' Melvin is my dude and I could totally read an entire book about him... except not written by Gabby Rivera because I think she'd fuck it up and make it about counter culture leather tankie enby daddies or some shit like that.

tl;dr: This book is like tumblr. But the references are all over the place. And Juliet is less a character and more a sounding board for all the Queer Theory this author has ever learned about.
Profile Image for Weezie.
317 reviews26 followers
February 24, 2017
**Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley**

This has honestly been the hardest review I have ever had to write. To the point that I thought about not writing it because I have so many conflicting emotions about it.

First, this is an incredible book. I loved how the racism in white feminism was pointed out, I loved that Juliet started to decolonize and had a good taste of the Queer PoC community. The characters were well thought out, the plot was strong, the writing was nearly flawless. I loved how Harlowe even understood her privilege and was still learning how to break the cycle of white women using PoC. I loved how the book challenged white feminism and it's minimal space for WoC and Transwomen.

But there was one passage that ruined it all for me. If you follow me on twitter, you've seen it and if you don't, here it is: Like wasn't once with the Native Americans enough and didn't that kind of happen by accident? The pilgrims didn't mean to kill the Indians with yellow fever or whatever, right?

It happens early on in the book and I spent the rest of my reading experience with those two sentences running non-stop in my head. I kept expecting for the author to correct the information but it never happened. In fact, while the book explores Latinx and Black oppression, the author never once circles around to talk about Native folks which I found troubling. You can bring us up but you can't correct it in later text?

Someone reached out to the author on my behalf and while they did apologize and said that they meant no harm, I can't help but feel, well, harmed.

This would have been a powerful read for me but instead I felt very othered by it. Brown and Queer but not the right kind of brown to be respectfully acknowledged.

Due to this, I have chosen not to rate this book because it doesn't feel fair to the author to rate their book when I have such conflicted emotions about it. I also can't pick myself apart and rate this book based on its Queerness while ignoring the hurt it caused to my Nativeness.

Thank you for the opportunity to read JULIET TAKES A BREATH. While I have written a review for this book, I will not be rating it due to a conflict in emotions about this book. It is beautiful, yes, and powerful but I can't accurately give a rating to a book that has two very callous lines about the genocide of my people. ("Like, wasn't once with the Native Americans enough and didn't that kind of happen by accident? The pilgrims didn't mean to kill the Indians with yellow fever or whatever, right?") A friend reached out to Gabby Rivera on twitter on my behalf and while Gabby did apologize, it doesn't erase the text or the fact that it is never corrected at any point in the book. I understand that the passage was meant to show Juliet's lack of understanding about the whitewashing on American history, but if the author was going to choose to use Natives as her example (which I have no idea why she would do that since she was looking up Latinx history) then the text needed to be corrected at a later date or at least challenged by another character. While Gabby might understand that's not what happened to Native American tribes during the brutal conquests of early America, the reader might not. Too many times the displacement, slavery, and genocide of my people has been swept under the rug and chalked up to disease. I am terribly disappointed that anyone writing a book or publishing a book that includes decolonization and unlearning White History would think that 2 glib lines about genocide would be ok.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews125k followers
October 29, 2016
During the Diverseathon, I decided that there couldn’t be any better book for me to pick up than Juliet Takes a Breath, which has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. In fact, when I picked it up, my partner said “Finally! I feel like I’ve been hearing about that book every day for six months!” And it’s true: I’ve been reading so many good things about it… So much so, that I was reluctant to pick it up in case it didn’t match the hype. Well, I shouldn’t have worried. This is such a fantastic book about feminism, racism, sexuality, and coming of age. My favourite thing about it, though, is its recognition that people are complicated and flawed. You can have some things figured out and get other completely, devastatingly wrong. And it’s up to us to decide which people are worth sticking with despite their fuck-ups and which people are toxic for us despite the things they get right. I think that’s such an important and affirming thing to see in a book about social justice. And that’s just a small part of this story. This is definitely one that will stick with me.

–Danika Ellis

from The Best Books We Read in September 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/10/03/riot-r...
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