Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Juliet Takes a Breath cover

“What did it feel like to be so committed to something that you’d die for it? I didn’t feel that way that about anything. Not about being gay or trying to become a feminist, nothing.” (134)


(Chantel)

4.5/5 – This book follows Juliet from The Bronx when she gets the opportunity to do an internship with her favorite author in Portland, Oregon. I’m not going to lie, the fact that a majority of this book takes place in Portland is a huge reason why I picked it up. I wanted to see how an author used Portland as a backdrop to a story because Portland is my home and has been for many years. I think it was used perfectly as a setting for someone who is coming to terms with their sexuality while simultaneously opening her up to new ways of thinking about the world and herself. Not to mention, Powell’s was mentioned multiple times and I can’t walk in there without buying something because I have no self-control. There was something exciting about reading what an outsider thought about Portland. And yes, it’s true, the buses smell that bad.

Juliet comes from a place so drastically different from Portland. Juliet sees Portland as a hippie, queer haven and while I think that’s a little exaggerated, just like the show Portlandia, there is some truth there. However, Juliet isn’t just a fish out of water in Portland, she is a fish out of water in both the LGBTQ+ and Feminist communities. She arrives in Portland and has an encounter where someone asks her what her preferred gender pronouns are and what she identifies as. She is so overwhelmed by the interaction because she has no idea what those terms mean. Back home, she hasn’t been able to talk about being a lesbian with other people because she was in the closet. Throughout the book, she ends up finding people to relate to on numerous levels.

It’s hard to straighten out my thoughts about this book because it made me think hard. I’ve never been so stumped by a book and had so many thoughts jumbling around about race and feminism. Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book. It was entertaining and Juliet was a great narrator with tons of humor. I related a lot to her. I was someone who was so sure of who I was when I was 18-19, even before then, and then one college course changed that completely. Now at 25, I don’t feel that sure about anything because people change. Juliet experienced this over one summer and I experienced over the course of a college term, things change quickly, and you can either deny it or lean into it.

I will say there is some levity in this book with one of my favorite romances I’ve read about recently. Which says a lot because I like my queer romances. While doing research at the library (if I’m not mistaken Rivera was referring to the Central Library downtown) Juliet meets a cute girl named Kira. I was totally invested in these two and while the romance didn’t overtake the book I loved it. In fact, I wanted more but that’s because I’m a sucker for romances.

This book will make people uncomfortable, and I won’t deny that. I am half black, but I grew up with my mom who is white. I was never fully immersed in my dad’s world or culture. This is something I’ve struggled with but ultimately, I don’t think my race matters on the opinion of this book and instead of commenting on what the book provides I’d recommend going and reading. If nothing else, it’ll make you think.

My final words on this book? Come for the deep dive into feminism and race, stay for the adorable romance.

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