Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Author: Gabby Rivera
Publisher: Riverdale Avenue Books
Publication Year: 2016
Pages: 276
Genre: Contemporary/LGBTQ
My Rating: 4/5

Switching it up my coffee for a smoothie!


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. 


I'm not a big reader of contemporary fiction, just going to put it out there. That's slowly changing but I am still predominantly a genre fan  (fantasy and mystery/thriller are my favs!). So I found out about this book in a round about sort of way when I started looking into the creator of the new Marvel: America #1 comic which features a queer Latina as the protagonist.(Also not a fan of superhero comics but a queer Latina protagonist? I was intrigued!) Gabby Rivera is also a queer Neoyorquina and over all bad-ass (find her on IG @quirkyrican) so when I saw that she had previously written a novel my interest was piqued, especially since lately I've been wanting to push myself to read more NY-centric stories (this is NYC Book Owl after all).

The story, which follows Juliet a Bronx born-and-raised Puertorican throughout a college summer as she comes out to her conservative Christian family then flees to Portland to intern with her feminist-hero-author Harlowe Brisbane. Through hi-jinx and new encounters, Juliet learns to trust herself and come into her own voice. I found Juliet to be funny, sharp, insecure and stubborn and super relatable as she struggles through an identity forming college summer.

Rivera does not shy away from bringing to the forefront intersections of class, race, gender identity and sexuality that are rarely explored in YA or new adult stories, and certainly not in such an honest and sympathetic way. Recently, I have become a little more conscious in my efforts to read own voices narratives and this one does not disappoint. Come for the social commentary, stay for the great characters and that ending letter, oh my. I immediately snapped a picture of that page in the book and texted it to my fellow Latinas because it gave me life! If you are looking for a light(ish), fun, thought provoking intersectional novel, help a sister out and pick up this book.

Although the novel's setting is split between Portland, New York (Bronx) and Miami, Juliet is a Bronx-born-and-bred Latina and she carries her New York attitude with her where ever she goes. So I would place this in the NYC category.

Friday, May 5, 2017

American War by Omar El Akkad

Author: Omar El Akkad
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication Year:2017
Genre: Dystopian/speculative fiction
My Rating:5/5

Coffee and a good book at the Hungry Ghost in Brooklyn


An audacious and powerful debut novel: a second American Civil War, a devastating plague, and one family caught deep in the middle a story that asks what might happen if America were to turn its most devastating policies and deadly weapons upon itself. 


This book is going to make my top ten books of the year list, I can already tell. I received this book as part of my April Book of the Month box and it has been the only book so far that I immediately put in my box after reading the blurb. The story takes place in 2075 in America, but an America that looks different from our world today: Global Warming has taken a devastating toll, the map looks different as coasts have been swallowed up and political borders have drastically changed. The North has banned the use of fossil fuels and the South has seceded.

The story is framed by the narrative of Benjamin Chestnut, a historian nearing the end of his days living in New Anchorage. We learn that he is part of the 'miraculous generation' of survivors that lived through the Civil War and then the devastating plague that followed. We learn that he alone is privy to way that these events really unfolded and that he knows the person who triggered the plague. It is in this document where he plans to finally come clean. We then go back in time to Louisiana during the war and follow the story of Sarat Chestnut from her life as a little girl who is part of a poor but happy family in one of the purple states (officially supportive of the North but unofficially deeply sympathetic to the south) to a refugee tomboy into a POW and then ultimately a tool for terror. In between the chapters following Sarat's life there are other documents collected by the historian that give glimpses into other parts and POVs of El Akkad's incredibly thorough and carefully thought out world. 

What many reviews have commented on in particular and which has generally drawn praise has been El Akkad's world building. We are given a vivid description of a world that is recognizably ours yet startling different and this is not an accident. El Akkad has worked as a journalist in several parts of the Middle East and has reported on Guantanamo Bay. His experiences clearly inform his topic of choice and how he approaches it. He offers realistic glimpses into life in refugee camps, detention centers, prisons, the cyclical nature of violence and what circumstances forge nationalism and terrorism.

 While many readers have commented that this book serves as a 'warning' as to what could happen if America does not turn away from its dependence on fossil fuels, I interpreted this book a little differently. I saw this book as a searing and raw critique of American foreign policy and 'regime building' interventions. El Akkad himself in an interview with Vox stated that "All I really did was take the conflicts that have defined the world in my lifetime and I dressed them up in different sense has always been that this is not a book about things that didn't happen. Everything in this book has happened. It just happened somewhere far away" Let us let that sink in for a minute. America's imagined dystopia is other peoples' current reality, and in my mind it is this angle that makes this story so powerful, so crucial and so empathetic.