Damn, this book’s good! I love, love seeing excellence in queer fiction.
First, it’s a compelling storytelling. Juliet’s coming of age as a young dyke who’s Puerto Rican, brown-skinned, curvy is told in the contrasting settings of The Bronx- where she grew up, Portland- where she interns under her mentor and Miami- where she experiences a profound awakening to queer POC identity and expressions of gender, sexuality, and freedom.
So in that sense, it’s a fun read that moves the reader along through these vastly different locations and their impact on her development- I could hear the tires screech on the Number 2 and 5 subway train split, taste the first time encounters with Portland vegan food, and feel the pulse and power of the Clipper Queerz party.
That’s real testimony to Gabby Rivera’s power as a storyteller, for although I as a white transgender woman share queerness with Juliet, few of the character’s other cultural realities were my own. Yet I was connected and moved throughout the story, and didn’t want to put the book down.
I also took this in through my lens of white privilege, finding myself situated as both the witness to Juliet’s testimony of intersecting race, culture, size, and queerness; and my own awareness that I at times have been a trans and pan-identifying version of Harlow, the white woman whom Juliet initially viewed as a mentor. Even as much as I loved the storytelling, the more poignant piece was the work I still need to do on my own self to examine my privilege and the racism that comes with it.
So I got way, way more than I bargained for in a book that I picked up because I love the cover art and a general love of queer stories. I very much appreciate the takeaway that I along with all white queer people have: putting the time into dismantling the racism that keeps our family of color in the margins. We have to recognize the right for space, for voice, for mattering; and have work to do in ensuring that this is experienced in a way that BIPOC needs it to be.
Juliet Takes a Breath is such a reminder of my need to take responsibility for this. I just really dug the book for telling me this.