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BOOK REVIEW Juliet Takes a Breath
by Liz Baudler
2018-02-14

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By Gabby Rivera; $19.99

Riverdale Avenue Books; 266 pages

Juliet Takes a Breath is amazing on so many levels, but most remarkably because it's author Gabby Rivera's first book. Sure, Rivera's been writing for years, lately for Autostraddle, but the voice of Juliet Milagros Palante incredibly strong and vibrant and will hopefully help generations of queer youth ( of color or otherwise ) find themselves and get radical all at once.

Juliet's finishing her first year of college. She's Puerto Rican, and from the Bronx. She's done two audacious things: fall in love with a girl, Lainie, and write to the author of her favorite feminist text: the improbably named Harlowe Brisbane, scribe behind Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy By Empowering Your Mind. OK, the satire is strong with this book: Harlowe and her Portland compatriots talk like a social justice smorgasbord, but it's clearly on purpose and not at all bad writing. Portland, interning with Harlowe for the summer, is where Juliet ends up, but not before a hit-and-run coming out to her traditional Bronx family during her going-away dinner.

Predictably, once in Portland, Lainie breaks up with her and, less predictably, Juliet confronts the reality of being one of only a few people of color in hipster city. Education comes fast and hard for our heroine—preferred pronouns, poly relationships, banana republics?—and betrayal is a constant. In the course of her research projects, Juliet stumbles across a biker dyke librarian, Kira, and Puerto Rican activist Lolita Lebron. Both are inspiring in very different ways. Eventually, sudden and inevitable betrayal takes Juliet on an impromptu trip to Miami for a rendezvous with her woke activist cousin Ava, who fills in the gaps in her queer knowledge bank and provides her that all-important first queer haircut. Thus equipped, Juliet returns to Portland and finally becomes who she's meant to be all along: a less-doubtful dyke who loves herself.

This book will possibly be the first time a young queer kid is introduced to intersectionality, polyamory and privilege in the same fictional storyline. Juliet is a kick-ass, hilarious role model of a fiercely intelligent young person wading through morasses of feminist and queer theory. Is the storyline a little impractical? Yes, but that's YA, which deserves more fantasies of queer purple-haired motorcyling librarians. And Rivera clearly waded through these same morasses, which is why she can skewer them so well.

Pick up Juliet Takes a Breath to be amused, validated and enlightened, no matter how old you are; however, young dykes of color might particularly appreciate this book.


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