Tag: Gabby Rivera

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.

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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!