51/17 Juliet Takes A Breath

By Gabby Rivera

You know my current state of boredom at work, which has left me with a lot of time to read. I started this one on my way to work today, and finished it over a few hours; it’s very easy to read. The language is so authentic in it’s young-ness that it felt like I was reading something actually written by a teen.

It was also thought provoking. Obviously, over the last few years, I’ve learnt so many new concepts and words for phenomenons that I didn’t know while I was just here in Singapore. A lot of that learning comes through exposure to cool, forward-thinking people like yourselves, who have graciously and patiently taught me new ways of thinking. However, I remember the feeling of not having these words when I was younger and talking to my brother (still happens, actually) and being so lost, then frustrated that I was lost, because I had what I thought were solid points but not the appropriate lexis to describe it. But now reading this, and trying to talk to my colleagues about the things that come up, I realise that the lexis that we use and know so well is actually incredible dense and elitist; I have to break it up for them, or there’s not going to be any room for communication. So I enjoyed seeing her process of learning and the moment where her adorbs cousin teaches her things.

On the other hand, at some moments it felt like a Queer Theory 101 course, because the language was so exact and they were throwing out these massive concepts in supposedly casual conversation; it felt like it was written to be used in high schools across America. And because so much of it was, “tell, not show”. Even those moments which are supposed to be the most emotional, like when she comes out and her interactions with her mother that follow – even those, they explicitly say some things that I don’t feel need to be said because they can be implied in gestures and actions. So that was a bit of a pity, that it was cool concepts and these incredible ensemble packed in there with their own complex relationships, but could have used a better editor.

I did very much like the insights through different characters of how tiring it can be to be poc, but also how everyone makes mistakes – and that people’s friendship, their willingness to try and learn, and their spirit/aura/whatever, these can be more important than any mistakes they make. I took away a very positive note from the book, particularly from the friendship between Harlow, Zaira, and Maxine. The visibility of queer and brown spaces and people was so lovely too. I did find elements of it too, uh, hippie? But I think within the book they’re also cognizant of that and how absurd it can be, and they make fun of it too, so it works out. Overall an enjoyable, easy read.

Also, the chapter about the periods was quite cool. I’m gonna try the trick with the salt and water to wash out stains lol.

51/17 Juliet Takes A Breath

3 thoughts on “51/17 Juliet Takes A Breath

  1. RaquellovesMeira says:

    I also particularly loved the exploration of how language can act as a barrier to people getting into activism and social justice. I found it a much needed reminder. And its definitely one of those things that will always have to grapple with in order to ensure spaces remain inclusive.

    Its hard to fight the tendency to use niche language, because at the end of the day it exists for a reason, its useful summarizing long complex arguments into niche words, it creates a sense of community, it allows one to have more nuanced discussions as it implies a level of shared knowledge…
    That’s why I found useful to remember how negative it can be, and also to remind myself that it can and is used for a whole lot of negative reasons: to feed one’s ego by proving how smart one is, to deliberately exclude others, to prove that you are more of a ‘feminist’ or more ‘woke’ or more of an ‘activist’ than others etc.

    The other thing that I also really like in the book is how people were able to form meaningful bonds despite social divisions. Despite fucking up there was a space for growth and there was genuine love between characters.

    I definitely agree that the book was poorly written at points, it felt like such a mechanical introduction to things, and I can see people who are getting into the ‘social justice world’ being put of by that style. I also was really annoyed by the whole hippie discussion of vaginas, the mysticism really got on my nerves.

    I would probably give the book a 2/5


    1. omg don’t even get me started on the vagina thing haha, at some point someone called her out I think that not all women have vaginas? And the mysticism from activist groups like this always feel vaguely appropriative because their mysticism is always asian/native american at root – like acupuncture or natural medicines. In fact it was my first problem with the book, that I hugely disliked the author that she idealised. but yeah, it was nice to see that over time even Juliet recognised that there was so much for her hero to improve on – and this bit “how people were able to form meaningful bonds despite social divisions”, like that moment when she sees the author, her ex-girlfriend, her ex’s new girlfriend, all at this new woman’s house, all of them talking even after the disastrous speaker’s session – that was fantastic. It’s also quite a nice forgiving element into a story that could’ve easily just been vindictive and exclusionary.


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