A recommendation by polyesque!
I ended up liking this but I not loving it! I think part of that could have been alleviated by my figuring out a bit sooner that this book was taking place much earlier than I thought it did–perhaps the lack of cell phones should have done it, but I spent a good portion thinking that Juliet was in the 2020s or maybe the 2010s, which gives a very different veneer to many of the ideas that she’s encountering.
The author’s note at the end here was super illuminating, I think. It’s a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman in that lazy hazy period of not-quite-formed-adulthood but not-quite-childhood either. Juliet takes charge and launches herself into the gayest place she can think of (Portland, which must thrill for the free publicity!) to explore herself, learn about new ideas, and see if there’s something more to this being gay thing that she isn’t getting at home in the Bronx.
I love that she’s fiercely, unapologetically curious about things she doesn’t know. It’s oddly refreshing, probably because of the grave fear that I carry around these days that I’ll inadvertently demand someone expend their emotional labor on me when I could also do the work myself. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing–as Maxine points out, she doesn’t charge Juliet for her wisdom just yet–but it’s a window into a time when it was reasonable that you didn’t have resources to educate yourself with, and when your best bet was to immerse yourself in cultures and experiences so radically different from your own.
I’m reminded very strongly of The Female Persuasion, if this book were stripped of its refreshing, unapologetic centering of Black/Brown/POC experiences. Harlowe = Faith Frank, and Juliet = Greer, and they both grow from being in the orbit of these magnetic but flawed female idols. It’s perhaps unsurprising that Juliet takes away so much less from Harlowe than Greer is able to take from Faith.
As a POC usually in spaces that aren’t predominantly with other POC, I did feel a part of me sing when Juliet escapes for the weekend to be with her cousin Ava and aunt, reconnecting (or, honestly, connecting) with that part of her heritage and ancestry. Part of me was exasperated though that she didn’t just…go there to begin with? Reminds me of the Hindi phrase that goes ghar ki murgi daal barabar which basically says that chicken at home is like daal outside–we value the mundane (daal) when it comes from outside.