Book Review: Juliet Takes a Breath

juliet takes a breathJuliet Takes a Breath
by Gabby Rivera
Young Adult / LGBT / Contemporary Fiction / Feminist
264 pages
Published 2016

Ohhhhhh my. This is a short book, and a quick read, but MAN is it great. It tackles racism, microaggressions, white feminism, coming out, “it’s just a phase!”, polyamory, breaking up, trans-exclusive language…and so much more.

The plot revolves around Juliet’s summer internship with an author in Portland, Harlowe Brisbane. Many of the chapters begin with an excerpt from Brisbane’s fictional treatise on feminism, Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind. One of these excerpts in particular took my breath away:

Read everything you can push into your skull. Read your mother’s diary. Read Assata. Read everything Gloria Steinem and bell hooks write. Read all of the poems your friends leave in your locker. Read books about your body written by people who have bodies like yours. Read everything that supports your growth as a vibrant, rebel girl human. Read because you’re tired of secrets.

Juliet reminds me a lot of me when I was detaching myself from Christianity and the conservatism I grew up with. Devouring books, learning about historical figures that I should have known about and was stunned that I’d never heard of. So I totally understand her wonder and shock at an entirely new world opening up before her.

Through Harlowe and her primary partner, Maxine, Juliet learns about polyamory. It’s a remarkably good example; even though Harlowe and Maxine have their issues, their arguments are reasonably healthy, and despite disagreeing on some topics, they still love each other and say as much.

In Harlowe, we have an example of a white feminist who tries to be intersectional, at least a little, but can still be blind to a lot of her own microaggressions. Maxine, her partner, is a woman of color, as are most of the other characters in the book, so Juliet has lots of opportunities to see how white feminism can be ignorant of issues and blind to its own faults.

As a white feminist myself, I took this portrayal for the warning it really is. I do my best to lift up voices of color by reviewing books by and about minorities on this blog as often as I can. I try to be as intersectional as possible, but I know I will make missteps, and I can always be better. But this book, though it’s meant for the other side of the equation, is a reminder to feminists like me to keep trying to be better, and the costs to other people when we screw up.

From the cover of Juliet Takes a Breath:

Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff. 

Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?

With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself.

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Book Review: It’s Not Like It’s A Secret

its not like its a secretIt’s Not Like It’s A Secret
by Misa Sugiura
Young Adult/Romance/LGBT
394 pages
Published 2017

Before I dive in I want to explain that I’ve tagged this with polyamory not for the main characters, but for a few side characters. If you’re looking for a poly romance, this is absolutely not it. This is a teenage lesbian romance, with a side of racial issues.

Sana is a California transplant from Wisconsin; both her parents are immigrants from Japan, so despite feeling like she’s a midwesterner, none of her friends think of her as one. There’s a cringe-y scene early in the book where she cheers with her friends about being “midwestern farmer’s daughters” and they tell her she’s cute for thinking that, but she’s Japanese, obv. I felt really bad for her. When her family moves to California, suddenly she’s not the only Asian girl in a sea of whiteness. It’s an interesting mix of having a place with your own people but also fighting the stereotypes of sticking with your own ethnicity. It’s assumed she’ll be friends with the other Asian kids, which annoys her, but she also finds to be true; having not had the opportunity to have friends like her before, she finds she really likes it. (See my Friday 56 quote about it.) But she also tries to break that mold and be friends with people she’s not assumed to like – like Jamie Ramirez and her Hispanic friends, and Caleb and his white goth friends.

The book also explores the way racism hits races differently; the Hispanic kids get hassled by cops while the Asian kids don’t – though they also have things expected of them that the Hispanic kids don’t. The book gets into cultural expectations as well – PDAs are not really a thing in Sana’s world, so she’s reluctant to be public about her affections at school, which drives misunderstandings.

It’s only in the last few chapters that all the secrets come out, and Sana struggles to put things right.

One thing I really liked about the book is the narrative structure. At the beginning of the school year, Sana’s English teacher gives them a project, which is to keep a journal to transcribe poems into and talk about what they mean to you. Chapters from Sana’s poetry journal are interspersed with chapters of the narrative, and give some nice insight to how she’s feeling. Her love interest, Jamie, also loves poetry, and it plays a large part in their relationship.

I quite enjoyed this book.

From the cover of It’s Not Like It’s A Secret:

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like the fact that she’s pretty sure her father’s having an affair. And then there is the one that she barely even admits to herself, the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California, she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for her to be honest with her friends and family, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known before. The only problems are: Sana is pretty sure Jamie’s friends hate her, Jamie’s ex isn’t totally out of the picture, Sana’s new friend Caleb has more-than-friendly feelings for her, and things with her dad feel like they’re coming to a head. She always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wanted to date a girl, but as Sana quickly learns, telling the truth is easy . . . what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated. 

Book Review: Many Love

many loveMany Love: A Memoir of Polyamory and Finding Love(s)
by Sophie Lucido Johnson
Memoir
230 pages
Published June 2018

I always pick up new polyamory books, and this one is excellent. Sophie simply tells the story of her love life, from falling in love with other boys while dating someone as a teen, to consciously deciding to date another couple, as a couple, in her adulthood. She doesn’t pretend it was all roses, though. She hurt people unintentionally when she was younger, and struggled with jealousy in a number of different ways.

I liked that she was so real. She didn’t shy away from talking about her heartbreaks, and the situations she found herself in sound all too likely. I also really liked the illustrations. The cover is a good indication of the style within – almost comic-book like. Rather than going with the story, the illustrations are part OF the story – she asks her boyfriend a question, his answer is in the illustration, and then the story continues in text. There’s a chart of types of jealousy, drawn in the illustration style rather than perfect text boxes. Then you get owls asking each other “Whooooo is your favorite?” It gives the book almost a playful feel.

One thing I really liked is how she talked about friendships and polyamory. In a typical monogamous marriage, (not all!) there are rules about cheating. If you cuddle another person, or spend the night with them, that’s probably cheating, even if it’s platonic. In polyamory, though, there’s a lot more leeway for how relationships can look. Sophie, for a good portion of the book, lives with a couple who are her best friends. She climbs into bed with them for comfort. They have dinner together, and tell each other “I love you.” I really love that she talks about friendships in the context of polyamory; I don’t think that gets discussed often enough. I feel like being polyamorous lets friendships evolve as they will, instead of being constrained by your romantic relationships. If I have a friend who I like to cuddle up on the couch with and watch movies, my husband sees nothing wrong with that.

I plan to buy this book to add to my polyamory shelf. If you’re polyamorous or curious about the relationship style, I highly recommend this book. She also has chapter notes, a bibliography, and an index in the back of the book, so it’s stuffed full of other resources, too.

From the cover of Many Love:

Sophie Lucido Johnson gets a lot of questions when she tells people that she’s polyamorous. Many Love is an intimate look at this often misunderstood practice: its history, its misconceptions, and Sophie’s personal transformation from serial monogamist to proud polyamorist.

After trying for years to emulate her boomer parents’ forty-year-and-still-going-strong marriage, Sophie realized that maybe the love she was looking for was down a road less traveled. In this bold, illustrated memoir, she explores her sexuality, her values, and the versions of love our society accepts and practices. Along the way, she shares what it’s like to play on Tinder side by side with your partner, encounter – and surmount – many types of jealousy, and learn the power of female friendship, along with other amazing things that happened when she stopped looking for “the one.”

In a lot of ways, Many Love is Sophie’s love letter to everyone she has ever cared for. Witty, insightful, and complete with illustrations, this debut provides a memorable glimpse into an unconventional life.

Book Review: Next Year, For Sure

nextyearNext Year, For Sure
Zoey Leigh Peterson
Fiction
241 pages
Published 2017

(WARNING: SPOILERS AT THE END OF THE REVIEW)

I’ve been procrastinating on this review because I’m not 100% sure how I feel about this book. I liked it – but I didn’t. It was not at ALL my normal style of book, but it is about a topic near and dear to my heart. It was very realistic but also relied heavily on a stereotype.

So first off, Next Year, For Sure is about a couple opening up their relationship. Not just to casual sex, but to actual other relationships. (It’s called polyamory, though the word is never mentioned in the book.) Kathryn and Chris have been together for 9 years and have what everyone would call the perfect relationship. And they really do. But then Chris gets a crush, and Kathryn encourages him to follow up on it. The rest of the book is the year following this event, and how it affects their relationship.

I’ve mentioned previously that I am polyamorous – coincidentally, we opened up our relationship almost nine years in, but not because he had a crush. It was mostly because my husband is bisexual, and I wanted him to have the freedom to explore that. We’d been introduced to the concept by some friends of ours, and had discussed it for almost three years before officially opening up. So we had a lot more communication and preparation than the couple in the book did. However, the emotions that Kathryn goes through as Chris explores his new relationship are very, very accurate. We did not have the same end result as the couple in the book do (Spoiler: that’s a good thing!) but the feelings and thoughts that Kathryn has for a large part of the book I am intimately familiar with. Even down to the time she spends very, very sick when her husband is out of town with the other woman. That actually happened to me. I could have called him home (he was a three hour drive away) and on later reflection, all parties concerned agreed that I SHOULD have. (He did not realize how sick I was until he got home a few days later.) So it was really interesting watching all this play out in the book when so much of it felt so familiar.

I was, however, extremely disappointed with how the book ended. I feel a bit like I’m missing the last third of the book. I don’t feel like there was any closure, more like the author simply got tired of writing and just – stopped.

Quick digression before getting to the spoilers: the author is Canadian, so this book is part of my Read Canadian Challenge. You can find the rest here:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. this book!
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

(SPOILERS FOLLOWING)

Another thing I was extremely disappointed by is Peterson falls back on the stereotype that opening up doesn’t work – that the first relationship doesn’t last in poly. Chris and Kathryn break up, though they remain friends. That bothers me. Some of the most solid relationships I know of are poly couples – one is actually a triad, and has been for several years. At least two others are LONGtime couples, where each partner has other partners. My husband has been with his other partner for almost four years now. We’ve had a couple of rough spots, ironing out how this works for us, but we’ve never come close to breaking up. So it’s frustrating to see a novel that treats poly in an otherwise positive light relying on an old stereotype of breaking up the founding couple. It just feeds into “obviously something is wrong in the relationship if they’re looking elsewhere.” So while the portrayals of emotions involved in opening up are SO. SPOT. ON. I find it really hard to recommend this book because of how it ultimately misrepresents something that has so little representation in media to begin with. I kind of wanted to throw the book across the room, to be honest.

Final verdict – it’s good. It’s probably worth reading, especially if you’re poly. But the ending SUCKS.

In typing the jacket description up, I was reminded of a few other things. One: the book alternates between Kathryn’s perspective and Chris’s perspective, but never gives us Emily’s perspective, and that’s a problem. There are three people in this relationship, not two. Also I’m a bit peeved at the last line of the description – it implies that true openness and transformation require the breakup at the end of the book, and that is not at ALL true. Again with the bad stereotypes!

From the cover of Next Year, For Sure:

After nine years together, Kathryn and Chris have the sort of relationship most would envy – warm and loving and deeply intertwined. But, as content as they are together, an enduring loneliness continues to haunt the dark corners of their relationship. When Chris tells Kathryn about his attraction to Emily, a vivacious young woman he sees often at the laundromat, Kathryn encourages him to ask her out on a date – certain that her bond with Chris is strong enough to weather whatever may come.

Next Year, For Sure tracks the tumultuous, revelatory, and often very funny year that follows. When Chris’s romance with Emily evolves beyond what anyone anticipated, both Chris and Kathryn are invited into Emily’s communal home, where Kathryn will discover new possibilities of her own. In the confusions, passions, and upheavals of their new lives, Kathryn and Chris are forced to reconsider their past and what they thought they knew about love.

Offering a luminous portrait of a relationship from two perspectives, Zoey Leigh Peterson has written an empathic, beautiful, and tremendously honest novel about a great love pushed to the edge. Deeply poignant and hugely entertaining, Next Year, For Sure shows us what true openness and transformation require.

 

#90sinJuly – July 2 – Tearin Up My Heart

“It’s tearin’ up my heart when I’m with you
But when we are apart, I feel it too
And no matter what I do, I feel the pain
With or without you”

So here’s an interesting tidbit I’m not sure I’ve mentioned: I’m polyamorous. That means my husband and I have multiple romantic relationships at the same time. We’ve been married ten years (on the 11th!) and he has a girlfriend of 3 years. I do not yet have a boyfriend, though there have been a few flirtations over the last few years. (We opened up shortly before he and his girlfriend started dating.) So this lyric made me think of something he’s said about poly – that no matter who he’s with he’s always missing someone, so it’s kind of bittersweet.

20170626_213011

So I’m posting More Than Two today, which is a magnificent, and fairly recent, addition to books about polyamory.

Other excellent books include Opening Up, The Ethical Slut (though I’ve found that to be more about ethical non-monogamy than poly – it’s a small difference but significant – often more casual sex involved) Polyamory in the 21st Century, and The Jealousy Workbook, for people that struggle with that. (Which I do sometimes.)

 

The 90s in July Index post can be found here.