Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera has been on my radar for awhile now. However, it always seemed daunting. Perhaps it was the subject, perhaps the length of the book itself or just the fact I am not in an actual novel reading mood this year. Therefore, when I saw that it was going to be in a graphic novel format, I preordered my copy. It was going to be illustrated by Celia Moscote (an illustrator I was unfamiliar with), but the cover gave the plot a seemingly friendly and more accessible look (though it gives a spoiler). It told me, “Welcome to our humble book.”
And what it was, was anything but humble really. It was a giant slap in the face. And that is what is meant to do. A girl coming of age is not a new story, but being Latina, queer and plus sized is new. And the bold, colorful, lovely, telling illustrations accent this adaptation of the novel.
Everything about the main character Juliet is fast paced and in your face. Her coming to terms with being queer and hiding her white girlfriend, breakups, finding love and finally finding her people is boom! Here is my story! You will love it, hate it and at times both at the same time. The idea we have seen before (coming into our own) but not with these characters, attitudes, experiences and needs. We see non-binary, bisexual, queer, trans, and all the other rainbow colors of people in the GLBTQ+ community. And most are people of color. Perhaps a few characters are a bit stereotypical (think Karen’s), such as the white women who just want “everyone to get along” and not exclude people on Ally night at the writing group or the queer white friend who is “woke” but only partly. And of course, the men in the store. Yet everyone seems true to life. There are also a few pieces of POC/queer female culture presented. However, the world seems pretty narrow. Juliet, while having issues with coming to terms with her sexuality, only seems to know gay people outside of her family. Even then, the ones she is close to are bi/queer/gay as well. Maybe it is a bit “clean and pat” but since my own experiences are limited to my mostly cisgender, straight family, I am not sure how accurate to most people experiences it is. I enjoyed the people who accepted her, the realistic attitudes of the rest of her family and experiencing this book now during this stage of my own journey.
Ages 13 and up is the best audience but it can be a little much for the younger, more inexperienced reader (not so much the subject but the ins and outs/twists and turns the characters take). There is some language, but overall nothing is “too much” there. I will say, while realistic, I really wish they showed less of one characters hairy legs. In real life? No problem, but for some reason when it is drawn? It really woogies me out! This is not a book for everyone. But perhaps everyone should read. I give permission to sort of like and sorta dislike, hate it or think it is the best book ever. Because like so many other books out there, this is a personal read. You take out what you put in. For me, there were parts I hated. Some I loved. Other areas I felt were a bit preachy. And other points not strong enough. The fact it makes you uncomfortable is really the point.