“Feminism. I’m new to it. The word still sounds weird and wrong. Too white, too structured, too foreign: something I can’t claim. I wish there was another word for it. Maybe I need to make one up. My mom’s totally a feminist but she never uses that word. She molds my little brother’s breakfast eggs into Ninja Turtles and pays all the bills in the house. She’s this lady that never sleeps because she’s working on a Master’s Degree while raising my little brother and me and pretty much balancing the rhythm of an entire family on her shoulders. That’s a feminist, right? But my mom still irons my Dad’s socks. So what do you call that woman? You know, besides Mom.”
When I first looked into picking up Juliet Takes a Breath, I came across a review that described this book as the female version of The Catcher in the Rye. My immediate reaction was “Oh, good grief, noooooo!” and I instantly wanted to cancel the sample that had just been delivered to my kindle.
However, I read the first few pages and was kinda hooked by the voice of Juliet, a 19-year-old Latina, living in the Bronx. The book starts with Juliet writing a letter to the author of her favourite book, a book that she originally started reading as a joke, but that turned out to have such an impact on her that she started to question her view of life.
“I fall asleep with that book in my arms because words protect hearts and I’ve got this ache in my chest that won’t go away.”
I guess, this is where the similarities with Holden Caulfield start. But, really, this is also where they end. Where Holden dismisses the believes of others over his own somewhat narrow-minded ideas, which are based on his misinterpretation of the Burns poem (which he never really bothers to find out more about), Juliet wants to learn more about the ideas in the book that she regards as her “Bible” and manages to arrange an internship with its author.
And so Juliet’s huge road trip begins. She moves to Portland (OR) for the summer to help her author gather material for a new book, and by doing so learn more about herself, her family, her relationships with others, her place in the world, and as with all good coming-of-age stories, she learns that stories change depending on whose narrative is given a voice.
“Who were these women? I didn’t recognize any of their faces. How could I be 19 and not know any of them? I’d always done all of my homework, read all of the books assigned in school and yet, here was a world full of possibly iconic ladies I knew nothing about.”
Unlike The Catcher in the Rye, which was a painful read because I mostly remember wanting to smack Holden with his own book, I could hardly wait to pick up Juliet Takes a Breath in my spare time. A couple of nights sleep may have suffered also, but it was such good fun reading this, that I really didn’t mind.
I’m looking forward to more of Gabby Rivera’s writing.
“It made me wonder about all the ways that we are able to love each other and how movies and TV make it seem like you have to discard people once they break your heart or once the love disappears. Maybe that was a horrible lie, a complete disservice to real love.”