Critically-acclaimed writer Gabby Rivera adapts her bestselling novel alongside artist Celia Moscote in an unforgettable queer coming-of-age story exploring race, identity, and what it means to be true to your amazing self.
Writer: Gabby Rivera
Artist: Celia Moscote
Colors: James Fenner
Letters: D.C. Hopkins
I can say without almost certainty that I am not part of the target audience for Juliet Takes a Breath. Because of that, it was honestly nerve-wracking to go into this for review purposes. But part of 2020, when I originally read this, was about broadening my horizons when it came to entertainment. So, while I wasn’t the target audience for this graphic novel, I still enjoyed the hell out of it and truly believe that most of us can find something to relate to in it.
The story follows a nineteen-year-old Juliet Palante, a freshly out lesbian and feminist. Coming out to her family doesn’t go exactly as smoothly as she’d like and ends her time in the Bronx on a sour note. She heads to Portland, Oregon for an internship with Harlowe Brisbane, a popular white feminist that Juliet looks up to. This is where the story picks up comes into its own as Juliet learns more about herself, queer life, and the people around her.
Gabby Rivera weaves a wonderful story with compelling characters. Juliet Takes a Breath‘s titular character coming of age story is full of emotional growth and personal development. Rivera isn’t afraid to tackle scenes that are traditionally looked at as taboo by society. But it’s the honesty of these scenes—from Juliet masturbating and getting her period to crushing over girls and having sex—that makes you feel your own emotions.
The scenes Rivera wrote hit as well as they do in part to the beautiful art of Celia Moscote and the colors of James Fenner. It’s soft, tender. It made me feel like I was nineteen and the warmness to it filled my heart with genuine joy. When Juliet was sad, you felt it. Confused? Felt it. Angry? Yep, felt that too. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so moved while reading a graphic novel.
It would be criminal for me to not give some details on the supporting cast, who all help shape Juliet in some ways. Max, a Black, polyamorous lesbian who counsels our hero, along with her partner Zaira, another Black queer person. The conversations had with these characters are moving and range from romance to false allyship. This leads to the reason Juliet is even in Portland: Harlowe.
I love that Juliet, throughout the course of the story, is able to discover who Harlowe really is on her own. Sure, she is warned, but she is allowed to fully witness the flakey feminism Harlowe preaches and make her own conclusions. And she does it without making it about Harlowe.
As I said, I’m not the target audience for Juliet Takes a Breath. But that’s the beautiful thing about coming of age stories, isn’t it? We’ve all been or will be, teenagers who feel like we don’t belong. Who thinks we know one thing, but we really don’t know anything. We’re just trying to figure life and ourselves out.
For full transparency: I received a review copy of this work from NetGalley. That said, this is an honest review, and receiving a review copy has not influenced my thoughts and rating of this work.