Comic book lovers should recognize Gabby Rivera from her work on the solo series America, focused on America Chavez for Marvel Comics. In her mission to create the wildest, most fun stories ever Rivera has brought her writing skills to the Penguin Random House imprint Dial Books with her novel Juliet Takes a Breath, which comes out today. Juliet Milagros Palante has been a a self-proclaimed closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx, but now she is out of the closet and about to head out on a life-changing experience to intern with her favorite feminist writer. What she didn’t expect was that her coming out would crash and burn, but she has a plan, or at least she thinks she might.
Juliet thinks that Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on women’s bodies, feminism, and basically any topic that might be even remotely gay-sounding, and she is sure that she’ll be able to help her figure out how to handle being an out Puerto Rican lesbian. The only problem with that is Harlowe is white, not from the Bronx, and definitely not full of answers. This summer of interning will be full of queer brown dance parties, intense explorations of race and identity, examining what it means to come out on many levels, and even a sexy fling with a motorcycling librarian. Harlowe shares her experiences in such a matter of fact way. Her narration is perfect for this story and reveals every single one of her thoughts, no matter how scared she might be. On her last night in the Bronx before she heads to Portland, she is weighing whether she should come out and her plan doesn’t exactly go the way she wanted. After blurting out that she’s gay, her mother can’t cope and barely even says goodbye to her. This crushes her, but she does have supportive family members who tell her that they still love her, including her fourteen year old brother who already knew her secret.
When her internship starts, Juliet is sent on a quest to learn more about the women who inspired, or gave birth to, other women. Harlowe’s quest though is not exactly rational sounding, with Juliet being asked to hunt for the supernatural beings that birthed women, because Adam obviously isn’t who brought them to life. She is trying to keep calm and laid back, in order to make herself fit into Harlowe’s vibe, but Juliet is anything, but calm on the inside. This is a massive change for her and not only is she delving into a less than clear project, but she still feels herself struggling to cope with what feels like the loss of her mom after her coming out. Portland acts as a catalyst for Juliet and is the point where her journey to understand herself and different elements of the LGBTQ+ community begins. She has never thought about pronouns and while she took the word dyke as her identifier she hasn’t examined the idea of how the word has been re-appropriated by the community.
Throughout the book Rivera takes time to examine spaces and elements of community. One of the most powerful moments connects to allyship and how to best support people of color and ensure their voices are heard. Maxine, who is a friend of Harlowe’s, critiques the Harlowe’s behavior at an event and argues that white people saying that they need to give people of color space does not equate to equality, but rather to privilege by phrasing it as though they control the conversational space to begin with. Juliet and Maxine discuss this moment and in doing so Juliet begins to see that Harlowe is not the perfect person she thought. As Juliet spends more time in Portland she begins to see more and more flaws in her hero, but in this journey she begins to learn more about herself and find out what it means to be herself. This is a beautiful story full of coming to terms with yourself and finding your connection to a community. Juliet is discovering so much in her summer, even if it isn’t what she had expected. You can find Juliet Takes a Breath wherever books are sold today.