A bit bold and a bit boring

filled star filled star filled star star unfilled star unfilled
xphiler06 Avatar


There are a lot of great things going on in this book, but there were also frustrating aspects that dulled my enjoyment/investment in the book. I waver between 3 and 4 stars, so maybe 3.5.

Note that there is not much by way of plot in this book, so basically everything I discuss outside of the cover summary could be seen as a spoiler.

The story takes place nearly 15 years ago, not long after 9/11. Juliet is a Puerto Rican lesbian living in NYC in her coming-of-age years in a time when feminism and lgbtqiap+ rights and representation were not as mainstream, storied, and accessible. When Juliet reads a book that emphasizes Pussy Power and radically discusses concepts of Feminism, etc., she takes an internship with the author, her idol, across the country.

The author Juliet interns for, Harlowe, is a white lesbian woman whose feminism is wrapped up in vaginas, menstruation, and hippy dippy new age "isms". Harlowe is also the "primary" in an open relationship with an African-American woman. During her summer with them, Juliet watches their relationship fall apart, seemingly stemming from Harlowe's whiteness and her inability to fully understand any person of color.

Juliet herself is ignorant of gay rights and culture and is trying to figure out things for herself. That's most of the plot; not much happens, and there's not much by way of character growth. It's mostly Juliet researching a few feminists and sitting on the outskirts of Harlowe's failing relationship, as Juliet faces a lack of communication with her own girlfriend across the country and a new girl catching her eye in town. I admit I found it a bit boring through parts.

What this novel addresses that I give full props to is the idea of white feminism not being global feminism, and that white lesbians will never have the same experience as other minority groups. The novel includes events that white people are not invited to where Juliet admits to finally being in a space where she is not made to feel like the "other".

Harlowe, I believe, is the only white character in the book (or at least, the only one present for scenes in the book). Rivera has flipped the paradigm and made Harlowe the token representation, a representation of selfishness and stereotypical pseudo-feminist clichés (for some reason, Gwenyth Paltrow comes to mind when I think of her.) While clever, this is the only white character representation while Juliet assesses what feminism means and how inclusive the white majority is. I walked away with the sense that, based on the text, white women can never do "enough," will never see "it." While that may be true, it almost came off with a sense of "why bother with them at all then?"

Ultimately, the book came off as very separatist. No room for white people. While I don't argue the validity of minorities to feel that, I also think it doesn't do much to help the larger lgbtqiap+ group as a unified movement to walk away with a sense that it's a futile conversation.

To that end, I will add that this book very much focuses on Juliet and her lesbianism and feminism in context to the "Pussy Power" text and her as a racial minority. It does not do much to examine other perspectives in the lgbtqiap+ community, such as trans feminism in regards to Harlowe's obsession with vaginas and menstruation. And in a novel that is all about how the white woman, even as a minority and lesbian, cannot fully understand and represent the racial minority experience, it completely ignores the issue of and makes no attempt to acknowledge the prejudice and exclusion of minorities or alternate expression within the lgbtqiap+ community. For a book that's very much about the examination of roles and representation and self, there is some irony in the very narrow lens.

Having said all that, I believe the book does have a lot to offer by way of being a minority voice in a coming-of-age story in the lgbtqiap+ community. I believe there are many readers who will find similar inspiration in the ideas and cultural examinations this book has to offer that Juliet found in Harlowe's book; it is a place to start, to find a relatable identity, to start the questions and examinations. This is likely to be a very good start for a lot of readers.