It’s the last Saturday of the month, which means it’s Give a Sh*t Book Club time! Our book this month is Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera.
Part of my intention in selecting this particular book was to highlight a Puerto Rican author. Puerto Rico has been on my mind and the minds of many others because of the devastation caused by the recent hurricane and the U.S. government’s inadequate response to the humanitarian crisis. While the book isn’t set in Puerto Rico, Juliet’s culture is a big part of her identity. I would be really interested to read books set in Puerto Rico, so if you have any recommendations, please share them!
I love Juliet as a character and the way her relationships are messy and genuine and worth fighting for even when they are difficult. She’s constantly learning, and constantly reevaluating based on what she’s learned. One of the things I struggle with is living in the tension, or allowing people or situations to be complex instead of forcing them into boxes that my mind can easily process. Juliet is uncomfortable living in the tension, too, but she doesn’t fight against it, and I think I could learn from that.
Reading this book felt to me like going on a trip through an alternate universe. My favorite part was how it served as a reminder to me that there’s a whole big world out there full of beautifully different people. I live in an urban area, but it’s landlocked deep in the red-state middle of the country. It’s easy to feel isolated here, as if I’m the only one who doesn’t tacitly agree that white people are superior, that anyone who isn’t straight or cisgendered is a freak, that women can’t be trusted to manage their own bodies, that anyone who doesn’t carry a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other isn’t worthy of respect. Reading about Juliet’s life in the Bronx with her imperfect but loving family and her sojourn to Portland, Oregon to study with a white, hippie feminist was a breath of fresh air to me because it was all so different from everything and everyone I see on a daily basis.
I’m glad this book exists. I started to think about all the options I have when I want to read about a person who looks like me. Books by and about straight white girls are EVERYWHERE. But what would it mean to someone who looks like Juliet, to see a girl on a book cover who looks like her, to read a book that relates to her own life? This is why representation is so, so important to me. Everyone has a voice. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented. And those of us who have had the luxury of being represented all along need to scoot the hell over and make some room at the table. Just like Harlowe needed to shut up and listen when the women of color in her life tried to tell her how her white feminism wasn’t making room for their voices.
I came across this quote by Junot Diaz in another book I’m reading, and it struck me:
“You guys know about vampires?” Diaz asked. “You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There's this idea that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. And what I've always thought isn't that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. It's that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn't see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don't exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”
I’m glad Gabby Rivera made this mirror, and I hope she makes many more.
What did you think of Juliet Takes a Breath? Comments are open below. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!