Looking for a queer coming-of-age novel that you could actually relate to? Oh, only since the first time you realized your attraction toward your same gender was widely considered strange and abnormal? No shit! Well, hermanas, that time has arrived.
“Juliet Takes a Breath” follows the story of Juliet Palante, a queer puertorriqueña who leaves the Bronx bustle (and her mami’s delicious arroz con maíz) for a summer in Portland, Oregon, where she interns for her fave feminist author Harlow Brisbane. During this time, the naïve, passionate and always hilarious Juliet comes out to her Latinx familia, gets some textbook and real-life instructions on feminism, queer terminology and radical politics, experiences the ups and downs of first romances and realizes that noisy subways, jam-packed dining rooms and speakers blasting Big Pun rhymes can actually be more serene than birds chirping on the West Coast.
The book is raw, smart, hysterically funny and filled with Latinx references to make your heart scream “wepa.” In short, “Juliet Takes a Breath” is just as Black feminist writer Roxane Gay describes it: “f***ing outstanding.”
Latina chatted with the queer brown Boricua behind the book, Gabby Rivera, about inspiration, representation, reception and more. Check it out:
Like Juliet, you are a queer brown Latina Bronxite. How much of this character is based on your own story, whether coming out, finding feminism or exploring your "Nuyoricaness" from abroad?
The first iteration of this book, which I thought was like the bomb and would get published until I realized I didn’t know who Juliet was, is where you can find the parts of her that are most like me. It’s the parts of her that are filled with self-doubt, where she’s questioning what people are saying of her, questioning God. I see myself in the parts of her that are a little doe-eyed. I think Juliet is a lot like me, but I also was very much trying to make her in a way that I know my friends and family to be: funny, aware of people when they are like throwing out some bullshit, believing in love and questioning her existence.
You mentioned love, a theme present from the beginning to end of this book. We see the love between Juliet and her partner, the love that bursts into the room during a Puerto Rican dinner, the love of a mom, of a tía or a prima, the polyamorous love that seems a little strange to Juliet at first and, ultimately, the self-love Juliet finds. Was this intentional?
Yes. This was absolutely intentional. I feel like there’s this catalog of stories of women who fall in love with other women but they die, whether it’s cancer or a brutal murder. There’s so much trauma associated with being lesbian, queer or identifying in a non-traditional sort of a way. As a writer, I’m over it. I didn’t want to tell that story at all. I wanted to look at queer relationships and show multiple models of the possibility of love: the first time you fall in love, how adults dismantle hetero love and create a love that’s theirs, polyamorous love. So, yeah, love was definitely important. It’s like a radical act, especially for a Latinx family. We are only viewed as warmhearted when we are caretakers. When it’s our own children, we are depicted as slapping them in the street. Our romantic love is sexualized. It’s not love, but sex. I just wanted to break that all away. I come from a family that loves tremendously, with a grandmother that taught me how to cook and helped me with homework. We talk loud and love hard. I needed to show this.
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