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In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month beginning today, it only seemed to right to share a wonderfully written YA novel by the Puerto Rican, queer, Bronx-born icon Gabby Rivera. She is the first Latina to ever write for Marvel and the mastermind behind the America comics series, starring America Chavez. Juliet Takes a Breath is Rivera’s first fiction work—and an utterly smashing one at that.
The story opens with Juliet Milagros Palante, a queer, Puerto Rican college student with a whole lot of questions. And, a whole lot of hope. At only nineteen years old, Bronx-born Juliet is still trying to figure out how all the aspects of her identity come together. Her first year of college brought her her first girlfriend, Lanie. Amongst all the excitement and puppy eyes that come with your first love, Juliet can’t ignore two unsettling facts: Lanie refuses to introduce her to her parents, and Juliet has yet to come out to her own family. Juliet also has to battle anxiety-induced asthma and growing insecurities around her chubby brown body. It’s at this crossroads that she finds the book that will change her life: Harlowe Brisbane’s Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering your Mind.
Author gabby rivera | via nbc news
Excited by her first exposure to queer-centric, radical feminism, Juliet emails Harlowe to ask if she can spend the summer interning with the acclaimed feminist in Portland, Oregon. To Juliet’s surprise, and delight, Harlowe emails her back. It’s a yes.
That’s how Juliet ends up in the middle of quirky, weird, and very white Portland. If being dropped in a city that feels like another planet weren’t disorienting enough, Juliet’s head is still reeling from coming out to her family the night before she left. It didn’t go well. Nevertheless, she persists and launches herself into Portland life. The vibrant people she meets not only help her begin to make sense of her identity, but also realize that it’s okay to not have the answer to every single question.
She learns what preferred gender pronouns are and what it means to not conform to gender entirely. She meets expecting queer parents and a writing circle comprised entirely of Black female authors. She faces the reality of hegemonic whiteness and its enduring detrimental effects on feminism. She meets an adorably cute, motorcycle-riding librarian who actually makes her feel appreciated for who she is—something she can’t say about Lanie. Juliet’s relationship with her family, though strained at times, evolves in ways that both break your heart and put it back together. Through it all, Juliet remains curious with the world. She allows herself to feel her pain and emotions with full force and learns from them. Most importantly, she refuses to be deterred from living and loving with beautiful conviction. When Juliet embraces her identity as a queer, Puerto Rican, Bronx-born, and burgeoning intersectional feminist, you can’t help but feel proud.
Juliet in comic form | Via los angeles times
That’s one of the most special things about Juliet. She’s fiercely independent and entirely vulnerable at the same time, demonstrating that the two qualities aren’t mutually exclusive. They make her, and every single one of us, all the more human. Rivera writes with unmistakable authenticity. Every interaction, every train of thought, and every depiction feels real. You can’t help but knowingly laugh when Juliet is a sweaty disaster over talking to a pretty girl. Your chest aches during Juliet’s tense phone calls with her mother. And, you know the excitement, nerves, and relief that all come when she walks into the middle of a huge, gay party because she’s finally found her people. Rivera confronts the monolithic white, cis stereotype of the queer woman with grace and uses her platform to highlight the actual diversity of the queer female community. That’s why Juliet Takes a Breath is so important. It’s rare that queer women are given a narrative written with so much care in representing all of the unique identities that exist within our community and lived experience. As a queer woman who’s in her early 20s and also still trying to figure everything out, reading Rivera’s words really is like taking a breath. She makes you feel understood, and she makes you feel like you’re not alone.