Just Juliet by Charlotte Reagan
I was contacted by the publisher, and was given a free digital copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Lena is a senior in high school, and she’s pretty satisfied with her life: she has a boyfriend who’s sweet, has friends she loves and unproblematic parents. But when Juliet James, the new girl, comes whizzing into Lena’s life, everything she thought she knew about herself is turned upside down. Lena is immediately drawn to Juliet, and finds herself feeling things that she has never felt for her own boyfriend. Lena knows she’s falling in love with Juliet, but she also knows that she likes boys too. Friendships and familial relationships are tested on Lena’s journey of self-discovery and love.
Just Juliet was my first read with a bisexual main character, and I’m glad that it was my first. Reagan touches on some important topics often brushed aside and labeled “social justice warrior drivel” by bigots. Topics such as the dangers of heteronormativity, the prevalence of token diversity (the term “token heterosexual” is used throughout the novel), and how many books utilize an entirely heterosexual cast of characters, only adding one LGBTQ character and then try to pass the story off as “diverse.” Just Juliet plays with these tropes intelligently. Here, we have a cast of main characters mostly from the LGBTQ community, with minor characters who are straight. The reversal of roles was both refreshing and eye-opening; refreshing because I’ve never seen it done before, eye-opening because my experience with one book is perhaps how LGBTQ individuals feel with most books.
Having said that, I did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. For starters, despite an interesting, diverse cast of characters, none of these people were fleshed out enough to seem real. Reagan introduces characters with their outward appearances, describing their physical features and how they dress. To me, that is the least efficient way to introduce a character since it leaves no room for movement in the reader’s mind. This is perhaps personal preference, but if characters are introduced with their mannerisms, gestures and facial expressions instead of appearance-facts, that – in its own – adds a layer of dimension to them. Moreover, none of the main characters seemed to have flaws, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. People are imperfect, and that should be reflected in stories. The minor/side characters were another point of contention for me: Lacey, particularly.
Lacey is Juliet’s best friend. She is a black character, who I was immediately drawn to because she was fierce and opinionated, and I wanted to see how Reagan maneuvered around her headstrong personality and gave her some development. But much to my dismay, Lacey was reduced to the school “bitch,” without any reasoning, without any motivations for her bitchy behavior. We were told she was a bitch, and we were supposed to take that as fact. The problem of telling-not-showing was constant throughout the entire novel: we were told Lena and her friends are sarcastic, but that sarcasm is never shown. Juliet was described as someone who had dark humor, but that never showed. Lacey’s character was a caricature, and the fact that the “angry black girl” stereotype is something that’s so prevalent made it a little hard to digest the scenes where Lacey was lashing out for no apparent reason. Also, phrases like “She had gone so pale she could almost pass as Caucasian” just made me cringe- was that necessary? That wasn’t the only offensive thing in the book either. Lena decides to make a snap judgment about a character she has never seen before, who is only present in the book for two pages, but is called a “Skank Princess” for no reason. This was a more glaring form of slut-shaming, but micro aggressions – such as calling sexually active females “whores” – were common throughout.
You may know this about me, but I very rarely like contemporaries. That’s usually because contemporaries claim to be realistic, but turn out to be some of the most unrealistic books out there. Contemporaries should be wholesome and cohesive. We are rounded creatures, whose lives involve more than one or two aspects at any given point in time. Just Juliet falls prey to one of the most common pitfalls of the contemporary genre: it focuses too much on one thing, and ignores the others. I have no idea who Lena’s parents are- and they only come into play towards the end, which made their interactions with Lena seem inauthentic. I know Lena has friends, but her friendships were used as filler rather than important aspects of her life. What were Lena’s dreams and aspirations? What did she want to do after graduation? Focusing too much on romance (which was also too perfect considering Juliet and Lena had zero problems in their relationship) and ignoring the many other aspects of someone’s life makes for an incomplete story, in my opinion.
I had many issues, but despite all my reservations, I admit that Just Juliet is an important book. I don’t regret having read it. In fact, I would recommend it to anyone who’s looking to diversify their reading, simply because it touches on so many important topics in an intelligent, sometimes brutally honest way. But it’s also not something that I will re-read or rave about in the future.
Just Juliet releases on September 21st, 2016