Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.
Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?
With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.
Published: January 18th 2016 by Riverdale Avenue Books
Source: ARC via Netgalley
This is one of the best new adult contemporary debuts I’ve read so far.
I tend to find intersectional coming of age stories resonate more than stories that don’t really delve into those crossover cultural and gender experiences. Juliet herself might have been bemused by words like ‘intersectional’ before learning the language of that world. Like Juliet, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling of being outside of how other people talk about your experiences in a specific language of power.
Juliet’s coming of age story is honest, funny, raw and charming. She confronts hero worship and white privilege when she sees how systemic racism affects people in academia during her internship. (I also read a great article about it over at Women Write About Comics). Juliet comes to terms with both the strengths and weaknesses of a growing community and finding what personal belonging really means for her.
Juliet grew up in an expressive Puerto Rican family and I loved her interactions with her cousin and little brother. (I grew up in a loud extended Filipino family so her family made me smile a lot.) Juliet holds steadfast to her identity as a lesbian even when she is challenged by her mother. She cherishes her family but like many individuals, embraces all the parts of her identity too. Juliet also learns more about the different queer identities and communities both inside and outside of her family.
I liked the positive explorations of sex and love. I thought Juliet switched love interests quite quickly but I liked how she explores the different forms of relationships. Juliet gets to navigate all the wonderful and messy bits of affection, attraction and first relationships.
On a random note, Octavia E. Butler is a touchstone writer in the American science fiction community, so I loved chapter 9 ,which was called: ‘Ain’t No Party like an Octavia Butler Writer’s Workshop.’ Juliet’s bemusement over her parents’ devotion to Star Trek made her cautious of scifi in that workshop. I adore speculative fiction as readers of the blog know, so I would totally read Juliet’s scifi short story experiment.
I don’t identify as part of the same communities as Juliet but I loved the coming of age arc in Juliet Takes a Breath. I hope it will reach many readers – especially readers who are looking for books with charming lesbian heroines and a wider lens on Intersectional Feminism.
*Though an important note: There is a problematic passage about Native American people that is left unchallenged in the text. Read this own voices review, for a full understanding of why correct context matters in challenging common anti-indigenous assumptions.