Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
Juliet is a baby dyke about to enter her second year of college. Puerto Rican and brown and from the Bronx, she comes out to her parents just before stepping off a plane to begin a summer internship with Harlowe Brisbane, the Pussy Power feminist who is about to change her life. But instead of learning about the mysticisms of womanhood, Juliet is confronted in a world of contradictions and white feminist hippies, and is forced to discover what it means to be at the intersection of brown, Latinx, gay and female.
Fuck yes this was amazing.
Everything about this book is absolutely fantastic, from its insightful skewering of second wave feminism to its critical analysis on the LGBTQIAP+’s gatekeeping to life in Portland, Oregon, home of hippies and hypocrites.
This might seem overly harsh, but I am from Oregon, and went to high school in the very liberal (and very white) city of Eugene, which shares many of Portland’s ideals and a similar lack of introspection. I grew up steeped in this very brand of white hippy feminism, and holy hell has it been a struggle to get out of and unfuck my brain. This book examines white liberalism in general and hippies in particular, especially that of white womanhood and white feminism, and all of the contradictions that that entails. There are no answers or pathways—unlike Harlow Brisbane’s book, where tracking your menstrual moon cycle is the key to understanding the universe, and where womanhood is a wide expanse of expression only if you possess a working uterus—just methods of understanding.
I felt small, constricted, and stupid, very stupid. Phen dangled these phrases over my head. He was waiting for me to jump up and beg to be educated, beg for him to explain the world he inhabited.
One of the things this book highlights is the various gatekeeping that runs rampant in many sectors of the LGBTQIAP+ community. Oh? You don’t know what this means? How quaint. You used an outdated or incorrect term, or said the right term in a wrong way? Well, you’re not really a member of the queer community then. There are so many hurdles and invisible barriers to being included, and Juliet stumbles into several of them.
However, there are barriers and barriers.
My parents raised me to believe that I should be proud to live in the land of the free. But what the heck did any of that mean if it came at the cost of other people’s countries and lives? So, like, I’m free but your whole entire life has been gutted and everyone you know is either dead or indebted to some gringo corporation?
While Juliet experiences instances of a marginalized community excluding other marginalized groups through gatekeeping (primarily with Phen, who was projecting many of his own insecurities), she also experiences a marginalized community welcoming a not-as-marginalized community into their doors. There was a women of color science fiction writer’s group who allowed white women entrance once a month, and the white women got upset that they were not allowed to participate fully and were only allowed at limited times. Instead of listening, they got defensive and upset at being excluded.
Juliet also gets an education in American history. The real history, not the patriotic, white-washed bullshit taught in school, and she realized that as an educated Latina, she should have known her own history—and that the crimes of history were replicated everywhere, from innocuous-at-first-glance store names to the underpinnings of the country’s infrastructure and economy.
Dearest Harlowe, Sweet Goddess of the Birth Canal
On her discovery of self and the universe and history and the subtle (and overt) evilness of white feminism, Juliet also is fully entrenched in hippy culture.
Harlowe is the feminist guru of the day, with her incredibly popular book about the Power of the Pussy, which is more of a rah-rah girl-power self-help book that blithely claims to be for every woman but is really for every white woman. At first glance, she seems like the embodiment of everything Juliet wants: an icon, a mentor, a woman who accepts her flaws and works on them.
As Juliet sinks deeper into her life, however, she realizes that Harlowe is just like the project she sent Juliet to work on—pieces of paper scattered throughout, words that sound powerful but have lost their meaning or have no substance, disorganized and exploitative.
You told those white girls in the bathroom to check their privilege. But what I wanna know is when you stopped checking your own?
Harlowe is the villain of the book, wrapped up in mystic New Age woo-woo. She means well, but good intentions mean shit when those well-intentioned actions cause actual pain and harm. She says the right things, apologizes without meaning, and makes a token effort to change, but ultimately does nothing but take from the communities that she claims to try to help. Some of her advice and assistance is solid, but takes nothing into account of the marginalized communities and cultures she blithely wanders through or steals from.
She is the embodiment of the power white women possess, both in general and if left unchecked. She is a woman who gained a remarkably powerful amount of influence in a brief time, let that success get to her head and decided that because she was successful in one aspect of feminism she was an expert in all aspects.
You don’t have a home until you leave it and then when you have left it, you can never go back.
Ugh I have so much more that I want to say about this but I feel like I’m not saying anything.
This is absolutely a coming-of-age story wrapped in a New Adult book. Juliet sets off to discover herself, and both what she finds and what she learns are different and better than what she expected.
She lives her truth as a lesbian, and discovers a group of polyamorous women who live and love each other. She goes to become the intern of a powerful feminist guru, and discovers the brilliant women of color propping the guru up (and holding her accountable, for the most part). And she finds what she wants in love—and what it means to be seen. And of course, she discovers her family, both of her blood and of her choosing, and realizes that sometimes both of those can be the same thing.
Your one job is to just accept what a person feels comfortable sharing about themselves. No one owes you info on their gender, body parts, or sexuality.
Oh, and did I mention that there’s a lesbian librarian who rides a motorcycle???
I received this ARC from my library.