I really really wanted to like this book. It has appeared on my social media feeds a couple of times when it came out almost two years ago and the gorgeous cover had me instantly hooked. However, I have not heard much of the book since then, so I was really glad to finally be able to read it myself.
From the first page, the novel caught me. It is a rather quick read and I like how the reader gets introduced to Juliet and her family. I had expected the book to be sprinkled with references to feminism, the lgbtqia+ society and discourse and I was particularly happy to see a Latina as the protagonist. However, the topics are way more prominent than I thought they would be, which was a pleasant surprise. I have never read a book in which the queer discourse was so directly addressed and this alone speaks in favour of the story. Rivera to put a lot of explanations in her story and tries to inform about, for example, preferred gender pronouns or polyamory. Nevertheless, she is often telling instead of showing, which is a bit of lazy writing in my opinion and mitigates the story. Yet, her addressing a lot of topics from an own-voice perspective still makes for a great read.
Upon her coming out as a lesbian, Juliet is met with both rejection and support from her family. Both aspects are elaborated by Rivera to the same extent, which I think is important and eventually help Juliet and her mother find together again. In general, it was nice to read about so many people supporting Juliet and helping her figure out who she is and who she is not. Juliet often takes the time to reflect on her situation and although she made a couple of choices I would describe as unwise, I still enjoyed reading about her. On the contrary, I did not like Harlowe but I believe you should not take too much a liking to her anyway. It is not only the way she almost always speaks from a white feminist viewpoint only but generally the idea that she takes herself too seriously and not gets other people enough room to speak for themselves. I can understand why her relationship falls apart, yet I love how all people involved still are on good terms, remain close friends, and support each other. There are a lot of positive vibes in the novel basically screaming ‘love yourself the way you are’, a really powerful message.
Still, some aspects of the novel struck me as illogical. First of all, the way Juliet got her internship and the fact that Harlowe even offered such an opportunity and a place in her home to a random girl were a bit far stretched, in my opinion. Juliet’s task seemed rather pointless and random and I at times felt like Rivera only needed an excuse to take Juliet away from her home in the Bronx to place her in Portland and the internship-option allowed for a somewhat feasible explanation. Second, I also found Juliet taking a plane from Portland to Miami after her fall-out with Harlowe not very likely and realistic. I understood that she wanted to get away, but I find this a rather drastic decision for a 17-year-old.
All in all, I enjoyed Juliet Takes a Breath and will definitely pick up another book by Rivera again. There were some small contextual aspects I did not like as much, yet I will only give the book 4 stars, but I am already thinking to whom I might recommend it.