Originally published in January 2016, Gabby Rivera’s debut novel Juliet Takes a Breath was a comforting read that I read as a recently out queer Black person in 2016. Now, the novel has been adapted into a graphic novel by writer Gabby Rivera, illustrator Celia Moscote, colorist James Fenner, and letterer DC Hopkins. Published by BOOM! Studios, the graphic novel gives its Puerto Rican lesbian protagonist new life.
Juliet Takes A Breath: The Graphic Novel
Gabby Rivera (writer), Celia Moscote (illustrator and cover artist), James Fenner (colorist), DC Hopkins (letterer)
November 25, 2020
Juliet Palante is a nineteen-year-old newly out lesbian and budding feminist. After failing to come out to her family, she flies to Portland, Oregon for an internship with Harlowe Brisbane, a popular white feminist that Juliet admires. Once there, she gradually comes into her own as she learns more about queer life, people, and the world around her through a compelling cast of characters.
One of the best aspects of this book that is a major improvement over the original novel is that Juliet is given more time and space to interact with other queer people of color. For instance, Max is a Black, polyamorous butch lesbian who attempts to counsel and guide Juliet with her partner Zaira, another Black queer person. Their interactions with Juliet were some of the most memorable, because they discuss subjects ranging from romance to false allyship. A more minor example is Phen, who uses they/them pronouns and helps Juliet get her bearings around Portland after she first arrives.
Besides these characters, Juliet’s family is every bit the loving yet flawed family they are in the novel. Her little brother Melvin is adorkable, while her aunts are a mix of caring and well-meaning, but incorrect. Juliet’s mother is a work in progress, and it was good to see her go from being intolerant to being more understanding about Juliet. Meanwhile, Ava’s side of the family is tough, honest, and caring, balancing out Juliet’s immediate family nicely.
Not only are the people of color adapted even better, but Harlowe Brisbane is also more transparent as a character. It is stated by several characters outright that Harlowe is a flaky feminist who preaches white feminism (i.e. feminism that excludes people of color and benefits white women most of all). Some of her dialogue conveys this as well, such as when she says, “Yippie, white people are allowed today!” regarding an Octavia Butler writing workshop that Juliet attends. Although Juliet’s naivete and blind worship prevents her from seeing Harlowe’s issues right away, Juliet eventually learns to question Harlowe on her own terms. Given that Harlowe’s presence in Juliet’s life felt too focused on Harlowe’s white fragility in the novel, it is nice to see Juliet process Harlowe without making things about Harlowe this time around.
Juliet’s coming of age story is brilliantly illustrated and colored by Moscote and Fenner. In particular, Moscote’s cover of the graphic novel is even better than that of the original novel, featuring Juliet in a bright purple jacket and her gay as hell haircut, surrounded by a starry yellow and orange background. As for Moscote’s art throughout the book, the best words to describe it are “soft” and “tender”. Fenner’s use of light browns and pinks as well as some heavy inking represent Juliet’s burgeoning emotional growth and personal development. Meanwhile, Hopkins’ lettering heightens Juliet’s inner dialogue and other character’s conversations well, bold letters and italics displaying emotions ranging from annoyance to awe.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how well Miscote and Fenner wonderfully displays Juliet’s coming of age as a queer girl. Scenes of Juliet masturbating, getting her period, swooning over her hot librarian crush Kira, and having sex allow Juliet to be queer as fuck with no shame or regret. Although I read these scenes in the book, I half expected them to be omitted or cropped out in the graphic novel. Having Juliet’s livelihood as a queer girl on full display was exciting to see in a society that considers masturbation, periods, and queer sex too taboo to be discussed.
All in all, Juliet Takes A Breath the graphic novel allows Juliet Palante to breathe more fully, updating it’s early 00’s storyline into something new and improved for 2020. Through having greater support from other queer people of color, warmer and tougher family love, and gorgeous artwork, Juliet learns how to breathe and live with all the air and space she ever needed.