Juliet Takes a Breath Summary, Themes, Synopsis & Characters [Novel by Gabby Rivera]

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TitleJuliet Takes a Breath
AuthorGabby Rivera
Publication DateJanuary 27, 2016
GenreYoung Adult, Fiction
PublisherDial Books
Main ProtagonistJuliet Milagros Palante
SettingBronx, New York City

Juliet Takes a Breath Characters

1. Juliet Milagros Palante – The protagonist of the story, Juliet is a Puerto Rican teenager from the Bronx. She is a queer woman who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment when she leaves home for an internship with Harlowe Brisbane, a renowned feminist author.

2. Harlowe Brisbane – A well-known feminist author and the mentor of Juliet during her internship. Harlowe is an influential figure in the book and guides Juliet through her exploration of feminism, intersectionality, and identity.

3. Maxine – Juliet’s girlfriend, Maxine is a confident and politically aware woman. She supports Juliet in her journey and provides a loving and safe space for her to grow and explore her identity.

4. Ava – Juliet’s cousin, Ava, is an important figure in Juliet’s life. She offers support and advice as Juliet navigates her internship and embraces her queer identity. Ava encourages Juliet to be true to herself and pursue her passions.

5. Zaira – A fellow intern at Harlowe Brisbane’s office, Zaira becomes one of Juliet’s closest friends during her internship. Zaira is a fierce and unapologetic activist who challenges Juliet’s preconceptions and helps her understand different perspectives.

6. Lainie – Another intern at Harlowe Brisbane’s office, Lainie is a transgender woman who becomes an important ally for Juliet. Lainie offers support and shares her experiences, helping Juliet broaden her understanding of gender and identity.

7. Kira – Juliet’s childhood friend, Kira, plays a significant role in the story. Kira’s life choices and experiences force Juliet to confront her own prejudices and rethink her perceptions of the world.

Juliet Takes a Breath Themes

1. Identity and Self-Discovery – The story follows Juliet, a queer Latina girl, as she navigates her own identity and starts to realize and accept her own self.

2. Feminism and Empowerment – The book delves into feminist ideologies and highlights the importance of women’s voices and agency. Juliet’s encounters with feminist communities help her find her own strength and develop a sense of empowerment.

3. Family and Cultural Dynamics – Juliet grapples with the expectations and traditions of her Puerto Rican family, leading to a deeper exploration of the complexities of familial relationships and the tensions between cultural heritage and personal growth.

4. Mentorship and Mentor-Mentee Relationships – Throughout the story, Juliet seeks guidance from various mentors who help her navigate the challenges she faces. The novel explores the importance of mentorship and the transformative power of supportive relationships.

5. Coming-of-Age and Coming Out – Juliet’s journey in the novel involves both a coming-of-age narrative as she transitions into adulthood and a coming-out process as she embraces her sexual orientation. The story explores the complexities and emotions associated with these significant life moments.

6. Activism and Community Engagement – Juliet becomes involved in activist spaces and engages with social justice issues. The novel explores the power of activism and the importance of community engagement in effecting change.

7. Body Positivity and Self-Acceptance – The book addresses body image and encourages self-acceptance, challenging societal beauty standards and promoting a positive relationship with one’s own body.

8. Literary Representation and the Importance of Diverse Narratives – “Juliet Takes a Breath” highlights the significance of diverse narratives, amplifying the voices of queer people of color and showcasing the power of representation in literature.

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Juliet Takes a Breath Summary

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera is the narrative of Juliet Milagros Palante, a nineteen year old Latina lesbian who lives in the Bronx who spends the summer working with a feminist writer in Portland, Oregon. 

The Preface begins with a letter from Juliet to Harlowe Brisbane, the writer of Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind. Harlowe is recognised for her work as a white feminist novelist. Juliet describes how Harlowe’s book transformed her life and why she hopes to work with Harlowe that summer. 

Part 1 opens in the Bronx, with Juliet getting ready to depart for her summer work with Harlowe Brisbane in Portland, Oregon. Juliet resolves to come out as lesbian, to her loved ones before leaving the Bronx. She’s scared, but she wants to live honestly and tell them about her partner Lainie before she goes for the summer. Juliet’s family, particularly her mother, is not pleased with her coming out. Her mother shuts herself up in her room & refuses to come out to say good-by to Juliet before she departs for the airport. Juliet departs, unsure about her position with her family. Juliet, on the other hand, believes that her summer in Portland with Harlowe will be transformational. 

Harlowe welcomes Juliet at the airport as she arrives in Portland. Harlowe is far more of a hippy than Juliet thought, but she also recognises it as a part of Portland culture. Juliet isn’t the only one who is now living with Harlowe. Juliet encounters Phen, a young nudist who challenges Juliet’s identity, in Harlowe’s residence. Juliet realises she knows very little about queer culture when she discovers about preferred gender pronouns & polyamory from Phen & Harlowe.

She also begins to discover more about aspects of American history that are not often taught in schools, which causes Juliet to see the universe around her with a more critical eye. Juliet misses her mother, who is still not accepting of her sexuality & her lover Lainie, who has not talked with Juliet since she departed for her own internship in Washington, DC. 

Harlowe sends Juliet a box full of pieces of paper with women’s names scrawled on them for her internship. She would want Juliet to conduct research on these women for her next book. Juliet must also assist Harlowe in preparing for a significant book reading at Powell’s Books. Juliet goes to the library to complete her study, when she meets a lovely librarian called Kira. Juliet flirts with Kira despite having a partner and is relieved that she can get attention now since Lainie (her girlfriend) has been avoiding her messages and calls.

Juliet discovers a letter by Lainie at Harlowe’s house a few days later, in which she informs Juliet that she has fallen in love with another person. Juliet’s heart bleeds and some of her confidence is shattered as she wonders whether Lainie’s new love is white and tiny instead of Juliet’s dark and curvaceous. Juliet gradually recovers from her split with the support of Harlowe & her cousin Ava.

Juliet meets Harlowe’s Black female companion, Maxine. She discovers that Harlowe & Maxine are in a polyamorous relationship, which allows them to date other people while preserving their connection. 

Harlowe attempts to be a politically correct white lady, correcting other white ladies who question the workshop at a writers’ workshop for people of colour, but comes across as arrogant and selfish to Maxine and Juliet.

Despite her efforts to modify the thinking of other white women, Harlowe continues to elevate white women over women of colour. This clash causes Juliet to question Harlowe’s feminist credentials & Juliet grows closer to Maxine because she can approach Maxine about racial & feminist concerns more openly and without the effect of Harlowe’s whiteness.

Juliet believes she has a strong love for Harlowe at the moment of the crucial book reading at Powell’s. At the book reading, however, Harlowe racially cartoons Juliet in front of the entire audience. Harlowe is questioned if her book applies to people of colour as well as white women & she reminds everyone that Juliet is impoverished and had to battle her way out of poverty & the Bronx’s harsh streets to become her intern. This upsets Juliet & she gives up the reading to fly to Miami for the weekend to meet her cousin Ava. 

Juliet passes her time in Miami with the cousin Ava & her aunt. Ava is bisexual, which causes Juliet to doubt Harlowe & society. Juliet’s aunt urges her to empathise with her mother and to trust that her mother would always love her. Ava brings Juliet to a gay people of colour party that weekend. Juliet is attending her first party where she is surrounded by individuals of colour who openly show their identities & are embraced for who they are. Juliet gets a new undercut hairdo that is stereotypically for lesbians during the party. 

When Juliet comes back to Portland from her weekend in Miami, Harlowe pretends as if nothing occurred during the book reading & instead discusses her ex-partner Maxine. Harlowe doesn’t apologise for her conduct, but she suggests Juliet an acupuncture treatment with a friend to make up. This fake apology is insufficient for Juliet, who later informs Harlowe that what she said during the reading was racist. Harlowe apologises briefly, but it is primarily about herself rather than Juliet. Juliet calls her mother about Harlowe & her mother tells her that she must share her own story first & only then would she be able to change the world. 

Juliet enjoys plenty of her time with Kira, the librarian, as her internship comes to a close. Kira understands Juliet’s issues & continues to show her around Portland. They fall in love despite the fact that Juliet is leaving for the Bronx at the end of the summer. Juliet travels to a river with Harlowe, Maxine & various other friends on the last day of her internship to purify oneself, which is an annual tradition for them on the hottest day of the year. Juliet had an asthma episode while hiking with Harlowe & realises she has forgotten her inhaler. Juliet gets scared & Harlowe ignores the asthma attack seriously.

Juliet shouts at Harlowe about how hurt she is by her and the way disgusting Harlowe has been since she returned from Miami. Harlowe says that she feels that all white people, like herself, are racist & that she is working hard to change her ways but is still failing. Juliet feels liberated and ready to go ahead with her life after they finish the trek & Juliet rides down the river in the purifying ritual. She believes in herself, her ideals & the power of her own tale. Juliet returns to the Bronx and is welcomed by her family. Later, she sends a letter to herself about her summer in which she expresses her love for herself.

Juliet Takes a Breath Synopsis

Juliet is a Puerto Rican youngster from the Bronx starts a journey of self-discovery and empowerment when she moves to Portland, Oregon for a summer internship.

Through encounters with a diverse group of queer and feminist women, Juliet learns about the complexities of identity, love, and the power of finding her voice.

The novel explores themes of intersectionality, embracing one’s authentic self, and the importance of community.

Juliet Takes a Breath Quotes

  1. “I take a breath and close my eyes. Inhale. Exhale. My breath is mine. My body is mine. My voice is mine.”
  2. “There’s a lot of power in knowing who you are and what you deserve.”
  3. “I’ve realized that the revolution starts from within. To change the world, I have to start by changing myself.”
  4. “I am not alone in my struggles. There is a whole community of people who have gone through similar experiences and are fighting for justice.”
  5. “I will not be silenced. I will speak up for myself and others who have been marginalized and ignored.”
  6. “My identity is not a burden; it’s a gift. I will embrace every part of who I am and celebrate it.”
  7. “Love is revolutionary. It can change hearts and minds, break down barriers, and build a better world.”
  8. “I refuse to let society define me. I will define myself on my own terms.”
  9. “Every step I take towards my dreams is a small victory against the forces that want to hold me back.”
  10. “I am proud of my roots and where I come from. My culture is beautiful and should be celebrated.”

Juliet Takes a Breath FAQs

What is the novel Juliet Takes a Breath about?

Juliet Takes a Breath follows Juliet Milagros Palante, a Puerto Rican lesbian from the Bronx, as she navigates her identity, feminism, and community during an internship in Portland.

How does Juliet Takes a Breath end?

Juliet Takes a Breath ends with Juliet embracing her true self and finding her voice as she navigates her identity, love and activism, ready to face the world with newfound confidence and purpose.

Why did Juliet fall in love with Romeo?

Juliet falls in love with Romeo because their connection challenges societal norms, expands her worldview and ignites a sense of liberation and self-discovery.

Why is Romeo not allowed to marry Juliet?

Romeo is not allowed to marry Juliet due to their family feud. Their families, the Montagues and the Capulets, are sworn enemies.

Why does Juliet hate Paris?

Juliet hates Paris because he embodies the mainstream white feminism that fails to acknowledge the intersectional experiences of women of color.

About the Author-Gabby Rivera

Full NameGabby Rivera
Date of BirthMarch 23, 1983
Place of BirthThe Bronx, New York City, United States
OccupationAuthor, Speaker
Known ForWriting “Juliet Takes a Breath”
Literary GenreYoung Adult Fiction, LGBTQ+ Literature
EducationBA in English and Women’s Studies from Hunter College, CUNY
Notable Works“Juliet Takes a Breath”
“America, Vol. 1: The Life and Times of America Chavez”
Social MediaTwitter: @QuirkyRican
Instagram: @quirkyrican

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