Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
Earlier this year I read Juliet Takes a Breath, the fantastic YA contemporary fiction about a Bronx baby dyke coming out to her family moments before stepping on a plane to intern with (white) feminist icon and author, Harlowe Brisbane.
There was so much to unpack in that book that I was a little scared about how it would translate to a graphic novel, but the adaptation was a smashing success!
This graphic novel has everything: coming of age, new adult, sex and sexuality, lesbians, feminism, an indictment against white feminism, inner tubing down rivers, Oregon, Miami, Latinx feminists and gays, and librarians.
It is so gay and such a celebration of the queer BIPOC community, including an understanding of intersectional feminism.
Juliet is a young Latinx girl from the Bronx who is trying to find herself. She’s a lesbian who has just come out to her (fairly) traditional family, and had read a book about pussy power written by a feminist in Oregon who inexplicably approved her for an internship.
But something not quite right lurks in Harlowe’s overly welcome hippy nature. Despite her preaching of accountability, acceptance and understanding, there are layers of unpacked whiteness that begins to make Juliet feel distinctly uncomfortable. Coupled with an internship that turns out to be doing drudge-work in the library (where she meets a cool, motorcycle-riding librarian), Juliet just isn’t sure that she’s really going to find herself or her identity by following Harlowe around.
But in the scraps of paper stuffed inside a box that is her research project (literally random names written outside of context, bits and pieces of history shoved aside for later examination), Juliet begins to unravel the vast history of revolutionary women, particularly women of color and queer women of color.
This new understanding of history brings tension between Juliet and her white girlfriend, who is interning in DC with some democrat group (which is problematic on its own end)—and with Harlowe herself, who has placed herself above needing accountability for her actions, and has stepped into the misguided realm of white saviorism.
There is just so much so say about this graphic novel, which tries (and mostly succeeds) in cramming a ton of stuff into not-very-many-pages.
I just loved the artwork, which was bright, colorful, and so cheery. I loved that the artist leaned into the scenes of sexuality, because this is a book about Juliet discovering and deepening her sexuality—of her love of her own body, how to love others, and how to have others love her.
I loved even more that she realized she didn’t need to learn anything from people like Harlowe—that there were vibrant communities of queer people of color like her who were doing the work that needed to be done to dismantle institutional racism, homophobia and transphobia outside of white spaces. And she realized that there was a long history of women and other marginalized genders who had been doing that work for centuries.
Plus, in addition to all of that stuff, Juliet finds true mentors in queer women of color who had been around the block, who knew what it meant to have intersecting identities and who could share their experiences and knowledge with her.
There is so much to love in this graphic novel (and its book), and so much that highlighted the problems with white feminism and the real need for white women to sit down, shut up and truly listen about how to be good allies. And to learn to hold each other accountable to minimize further damage. It was such a um, finely pinpointed critique of Portland liberalism and the hippy movement.
Oh, plus there are a shit ton of delicious looking sweets, and a really cute romance (with very real endings).
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.