Tag: Gabby Rivera

Juliet Takes a Breath (2019)

Cover image for Juliet Takes a Breath (Dial Books Edition) by Gabby Riveraby Gabby Rivera

ISBN 9780593108178

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “How could anything as huge as feminism be universal?”

Juliet Palante has just come home to the Bronx from her first year at college, and she is trying to figure out how to come out to her Puerto Rican family before she moves across the country for a summer internship. She will be spending the summer in Portland working for Harlowe Brisbane, author of Raging Flower, the book that sparked Juliet’s feminist awakening. But when she arrives in Portland, Juliet quickly feels out of her depth. Her girlfriend Lainie isn’t returning her calls, Harlowe doesn’t seem to have a clear plan for her internship, and everything is unfamiliar. The longer she is in Portland, the less sure Juliet is about Harlowe’s brand of feminism. But the summer nevertheless introduces her to people and experiences that will open her mind in ways she never expected.

Originally published by Riverdale Avenue Books back in 2016, and hailed by Roxane Gay as “fucking outstanding,” Juliet Takes a Breath has been picked up and rereleased by Dial Books. As I noted in my original review back in January 2017, the book was a strong story marred by an unfortunate profusion of typos and extra words, badly in need of additional proofreading. Happily, the new edition has taken that story and polished it to a shine. Although I was reading an ARC, I spotted only one mistake. The new edition also removes some problematic lines that reviewers drew attention to at the time of the original publication.

Juliet Takes a Breath is a coming-of-age novel about finding your voice and discovering your identity. The book opens with the letter that Juliet wrote to famous feminist author Harlowe Brisbane in order to land her internship. As with my first reading, by the end of this five page introduction, I was fully invested in Juliet’s character, and mesmerized by her voice. She is in many ways a naïve character who learns a lot over the course of the novel, and the reader gets to go along with her on that journey. She is just beginning to grasp the language of the social justice movement, and readers can be educated alongside her, or if already fluent, reminded of what it feels like not to know or understand the terminology. While some sections are still a bit didactic, it is certainly more accessible than a textbook.

One of the most appealing aspects of Juliet’s character is her openness, and pure curiosity. Her hope for Portland is so bright, and her willingness to be open to new people makes the city her oyster. Although Harlowe isn’t exactly what she expected, she still connects with everyone from Harlowe’s primary partner Maxine to Kira, the “junior librarian” at Portland’s central library (professional quibble: I have never heard of a junior librarian. Nor do I know any librarians who go around flirting with their patrons while on duty, or making out with them in the stacks). We get to see the outlines of a true community growing up around Juliet, and her brief sojourn in Miami provides hope that her family will accept her and become part of that community in time.

In some ways, it was harder to read this book the second time around. The narrative builds towards Harlowe giving a big reading at Powell’s, during which she uses Juliet in an unforgivable way.  Knowing that scene was coming only made it more of a punch in the gut. Worse still is watching Juliet care for Harlowe’s feelings in the aftermath of her big fuck up, rather than the other way around. Harlowe is more interested in being forgiven than she is in fixing the harm that she caused. The impact of the story is increased by knowing what is coming, rather than reduced by removing the element of surprise. Juliet Takes a Breath stands up well to rereading, and I am happy to be able to recommend it going forward without the caveats I previously attached.

You might also like Brother by David Chariandy

ALA Midwinter Fiction Preview

At the end of January, I had the chance to attend two days of the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference in Seattle. I had a great time attending panels, meeting up with book blog and librarian friends, and browsing the exhibits.  As usual, publishers were spotlighting some of their upcoming titles. Here are a few that I am excited about!

Umarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Cover image for Unmarriageable by Soniah KamalIf you love a Pride and Prejudice retelling as much as I do, you will be equally excited to check out Unmarrigeable, a modern day, Pakistani revisitation of Jane Austen’s classic. Alys, the second of five daughters,  teaches English literature at a girl’s school, to pupils who often drop out to marry and start having children. Literature is her small chance to influence them before they begin that chapter of their lives. Her small town is set atwitter by a big wedding, which brings several eligible bachelors, including the wealthy entrepreneur Mr. Bingla, and his aloof friend, Mr. Darsee. I didn’t want to leave you only with titles that aren’t out yet, so this one is already available from Ballantine Books!

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton

Cover image for The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton I knew that the publisher was going to be promoting Dhonielle Clayton’s follow up to The Belles at ALA, but I figured that it would be so popular I would probably miss out. So I was surprised but pleased to pick up an advance copy of The Everlasting Rose, which will follow Camille, Edel, and Remy as they try to save the rightful heir to the throne before her evil sister, Princess Sophia, can cement her rule of Orleans. To succeed, they will need to join forces with the Iron Ladies, a group of women that totally reject the beauty treatments that Orleans society is built upon. The revolution is here. Coming March 5, 2019 from Freeform.

Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow by E. K. Johnston

Cover image for Star Wars: Queen's Shadow by E. K. Johnston When Padmé Naberrie completes her term as Queen of Naboo, she faces the daunting task of building a new life for herself, out from under the long shadow of the throne. Instead, she will find herself in deep political waters, when her successor asks her to serve as Naboo’s representative in the Galactic Senate. Despite her uncertainty, Padmé  agrees to her Queen’s request, and takes up the challenge. To be honest, that cover alone was enough to pull me in, but I am excited to see E. K. Johnston, author Exit, Pursued by a Bear, take us on Padmé’s journey from Queen to Senator. Coming March 5, 2019 from Disney Lucasfilm Press.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Cover image for The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara CollinsOne of the great benefits of going to ALA is getting to talk to the publicists, and find out what they are hyped about. When asked which fiction title she was excited for, one of the Harper reps said “this one!” with such speed and certainty, that I took it without further question. The Confessions of Frannie Langton follows the trial of a former Jamaica sugar plantation slave accused of murdering the man who enslaved her, and his wife. Frannie herself claims to remember nothing about the night of their deaths. The novel is already garnering comparisons to the work of Esi Edugyan and Colson Whitehead.  It is set to hit shelves on May 21, 2019.

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Cover image for Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby RiveraJuliet Palante has just come home to the Bronx from her first year at college, and she is trying to figure out how to come out to her Puerto Rican family before she moves across the country for a summer internship. She will be spending the summer working for Harlowe Brisbane, author of Raging Flower, the book that sparked Juliet’s feminist awakening. But when she arrives in Portland, Juliet quickly feels out of her depth. The longer she is in Portland, the less sure Juliet is about Harlowe’s brand of feminism. But the summer nevertheless introduces her to people and experiences that will open her mind in ways she never expected. Originally published by Riverdale Avenue Books in 2016, I noted at the time I reviewed it that the book could have used another editorial pass, and a little more polish and attention. So I am excited to see that Patrice Caldwell at Hyperion has picked it up for re-release in the fall of 2019! I can’t wait to see this book get another chance to shine. Look for it September 10, 2019.

Did you have a chance to attend ALA? What forthcoming titles are you excited about? Let me know in the comments!

Juliet Takes a Breath

Cover image for Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Riveraby Gabby Rivera

ISBN 978-1-62601-251-6

“If you don’t know my life and my struggle, can we be sisters? Can a badass white lady like you make room for me?”

Juliet Palante has just come home to the Bronx from her first year at college, and she is trying to figure out how to come out to her Puerto Rican family before she moves across the country for a summer internship. She will be spending the summer in Portland working for Harlowe Brisbane, author of Raging Flower, the book that sparked Juliet’s feminist awakening. But when she arrives in Portland, Juliet quickly feels out of her depth. Her girlfriend Lainie isn’t returning her calls, Harlowe doesn’t seem to have a clear plan for her internship, and everything is unfamiliar. The longer she is in Portland, the less sure Juliet is about Harlowe’s brand of feminism. But the summer nevertheless introduces her to people and experiences that will open her mind in ways she never expected.

I was sucked into Juliet Takes a Breath right from the first page. The story opens on Juliet’s letter to her hero, who is a famous feminist writer. It is a heart-felt outpouring, and it is the missive that scored her the internship in Portland. By the end of those five pages, I was already in love with Juliet’s voice, as well as her passion and curiosity about the world beyond the place where she grew up. Her character really is the linchpin of the story, and her voice kept me with her even through some of the slower parts of the book.

Harlowe was not at all the character I expected. I was picturing a hard-charging corporate white feminist when I first heard about the book, but instead Harlowe is a mild hippie feminist who is all about auras and the power of the female body. If you are familiar with feminist literature at all, you will probably quickly realize that Raging Flower is a clear analogue for a real book. Indeed, Rivera thanks the author in her acknowledgements, since she in fact did an internship with her, and some parts of the book are based on Rivera’s own experiences. Harlowe, though a bit weird, is generally a likeable character. This contributes to the gut-wrenching awfulness of the climax of the story when she reveals just how deep certain prejudices can run even in people with the best intentions.

Juliet isn’t the only one who struggles with Harlowe’s brand of feminism. On page three of the book, I wrote myself the following note: “Are we going to challenge the connection between feminism and vaginas?” The answer is, eventually, yes, but not until page 197. Juliet is a naïve character, and there is a lot she is learning over the course of the book. Consequently, it takes nearly two hundred pages before her cousin points out to her that not all women have vaginas, and that centering feminist discourse around them can be exclusionary. Rivera generally does a good job of circling back around to eventually address Juliet’s misconceptions. However, I would encourage you to check out Weezie Wood’s review of the book, which critiques a statement Julie makes about Native Americans, which is never revisited. Indeed, while there are many Black and Latina characters, Native women are noticeably absent.

If this book has a difficulty, it is striking the right balance between educating and story-telling. It would also have benefitted from at least one more proof-reading pass; I caught many places where an extra word belied the fact that a sentence had been changed or rephrased. Rivera has crammed a lot of information into the book, and some sections can get a little bit didactic. However, integrating this material into a story will be far more accessible for many people than a Women’s Studies text book. Juliet also struggles with the language of the social justice movement. This is a good reminder for readers who are fluent in this vocabulary that they didn’t always know the terminology, and that there can be a big learning curve that can make people feel excluded. And for readers who are also new to this language, it introduces the concepts while also showing that it is okay to still be learning. So while this book is far from perfect, I don’t doubt that I will be recommending it often.

24 in 48 and Diverse-a-thon Kick-Off

In a fit of over-ambition, I’ve signed up for two awesome reading events that are taking place over the next week across various social media channels.

Cover images for my readathon TBRToday marks the start of 24 in 48, a read-a-thon during which ambitious participants aim to read for 24 hours out of the 48 hour weekend. I participated for the first time this summer, and succeeded in hitting that goal thanks to a combination of dedicated reading and audio books. Having hit that high bar once, I am planning to rest on my laurels and take a more relaxed approach this time out, and instead use the event to make sure I log a solid block of reading time this weekend.

Overlapping with 24 in 48 is Diverse-a-thon, an event that started on BookTube in September 2016. This is their second outing, which is expanding beyond BookTube to include book bloggers and Bookstagram. The purpose of this read-a-thon is to bolster marginalized writers, and particularly own voices titles. Taking part in this read-a-thon seemed like a natural extension of my participation in the Read Diverse 2017 challenge. This is a longer event that runs from January 22 to 29, which means dedicating an entire week to diverse reads!

So what’s on my TBR for these two events?

24 in 48

The Fate of the Tearling 

Cover image for The Fate of the Tearling by Erika JohansenThe first two books in Erika Johansen’s series, The Queen of the Tearling and The Invasion of the Tearling, introduced an intriguing world that is part fantasy and part dystopian, centering around the ascension of Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, and her fight to retain her throne. This one tops my list because I am curious to get answers to the many questions that were left unanswered at the end of the second book, and also because this is the next book in my stack due back at the library.

In Other Words 

Cover image for In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri It is impossible to have a really good 24 in 48 without audio books, for me at least! Suddenly, necessary chores and exercise are transformed into additional reading time on the clock. Jhumpa Lahiri wrote this book in Italian, and it was translated into English by Ann Goldstein. The audio version is then performed by the author–talk about layers! This autobiographical work describes Lahiri’s 2012 move to Rome in order to immerse herself in the Italian language. I am fascinated by bilingualism, and the process of learning another language, so I can’t wait to check this out.

Diverse-a-thon

You Can’t Touch My Hair 

Cover image for You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe RobinsonPhoebe Robinson is a comedian best known for her podcast, 2 Dope Queens, with Jessica Williams. I have to admit that I have never listened to it, but I discovered this collection on a display at my library. A book of essays seems like the perfect choice for reading in bits and pieces throughout a week-long event. And since I love to laugh while I learn, this seems like a strong pick for getting an own voices perspective on being a black woman in America.  Bonus task: Listen to an episode of 2 Dope Queens sometime this week.

Juliet Takes a Breath 

Cover image for Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby RiveraI’ve seen so many good reviews of Gabby Rivera’s book around the blogosphere, that I finally decided to request it from the library. And what do you know, it landed in my lap just in time for diverse-a-thon. Juliet has just come out to her Puerto Rican family, and is now moving across the country for an intership with her feminist hero, Harlowe Brisbane. But when she arrives in Portland, she quickly realizes that Harlowe’s feminism doesn’t seem to have room for people like her. A story about the importance of intersectional feminism seems like just thing for diverse-a-thon.

Naturally, I reserve the right to shake up my TBR at a whim, as the spirit moves me during the read-a-thon itself. Plans are worthless, after all, even if planning is everything. Now let’s get reading!

Are you participating in 24 in 48 or Diverse-a-thon? What’s on your TBR? Link me up!