Juliet likes to fantasize while she’s on the metro, about a book. A book by white feminist icon Harlow Brisbane. Even as she’s learning how to tap into Brisbane’s ideas of feminine power, she’s struggling with admitting to her parents she identifies as a lesbian and, not just that, but she’s in love with another girl. After she lands an internship with Brisbane in Portland, she decides to come out to her family.
Now states away, Juliet must maneuver between new responsibilities, a long-distance relationship and a newly complicated relationship with her Puerto Rican family back in the Bronx. In many ways, Juliet Takes a Breath functions as an introduction to the intersections between race, gender, and sexuality. As Juliet confronts the harsh unreliability of heroes, and impermanence of love; as she reconciles her understanding of how the world sees her with the reality, she must learn to cherish her own space, develop her voice and choose which relationships are worthwhile. Juliet’s journey to self-acceptance and understanding of the complexities of the world is not meant for the character alone. I suspect many young women will find Rivera’s book inspiring and self-affirming.
Roxane Gay said, in her review, she could have done without as much social science 101, and I agree. Adding to this, Rivera relegated secondary characters to plot devices, another stepping stone in Juliet’s growth. These problems, combined with the dreaded telling instead of showing misstep, weighed the plot down. I recognize, however, that I am not the intended audience. Juliet Takes a Breath introduces various ideas and theories for young adults which they likely have not been exposed to– at least not in the way this book does. In that respect, the author’s choice makes sense and I think younger generations may see themselves in this book.