Nestled near UC Riverside is the small yet cozy Cellar Door Bookstore, where queer Latina and Young Adult author, Gabby Rivera, met with her audience for a reading and book signing event on Sept. 19. Her laugh is giddy and contagious, and you cannot help but smile from ear to ear when you see her face light up as she greets people. Rivera carries a basket filled with homemade sweets, and she walks up and down the aisles handing out soft chocolate chip cookies.
Rivera then excitedly talks about her book, “Juliet Takes a Breath.” Her personality is laid back, welcoming and warm, making you feel like you have known her forever. Yesika Salgado, a Los Angeles-based Salvadoran poet and activist, sits next to her and displays the last book of a trilogy she has written, “Hermosa.” The two women laugh, engage with the audience and read their favorite passages from their newly published novels.
Rivera connected with Salgado on Instagram and asked her to join her in Riverside as a moderator for the event. With an Instagram audience of over 122,000 followers, Salgado focuses on body positivity and women’s empowerment. She has been featured in Univision, TEDx, Latina Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and NPR. Salgado’s poems explore love, disappointments and soul-searching, which allows readers to reflect on their own experiences.
Rivera is also known for writing a solo series on Marvel’s first Latina queer super heroine, America Chavez. She is a time traveling, brown badass with curly voluminous hair, giant gold hoop earrings and a wardrobe consisting of trendy American flag attire that she dons while she fights aliens and protects her classmates from injustices.
In her new book, Juliet Milagros Palante is a 19-year-old self-proclaimed closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx—except, she’s not so closeted anymore. The book opens with her writing a letter to Harlowe Brisbane, the author of her favorite feminist book, “Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy by Empowering Your Mind.” At this particular time in her life, she is discovering feminism and on a journey of defining her true self. Her character challenges unrealistic societal expectations as a proud chubby, queer brown girl who is only interested in loving herself. After Harlow responds to her letter and offers her an internship, she decides to move away from her life in the Bronx to Portland, Oregon. Just before her move, she decides to “come out” to her conservative Puerto Rican parents during dinner time. This big move is filled with life-changing experiences where she will face culture shock in a new city, white feminism and self love.
In this coming-of-age story, both the text and characters are fierce and unapologetic. Rivera used experiences from her own life to create this story and characters. She writes how she speaks, making the text easy to read and relatable. As readers, we step into Juliet’s shoes and navigate through the struggles she faces as a queer woman of color.
Her novel was previously published in 2016 by Riverdale Avenue Books, but Rivera’s novel was republished this year by Penguin Random House. With a new publisher, Rivera has visited 14 cities throughout the country to share her story with a new audience.
The cover art has remained the same, but the background is now a vibrant yellow.
“This is my first ever fucking book tour,” Rivera said. “A little chubby nerdy girl dream come true.”
Rivera wrote this book in her 20s, while a lot of things were changing in her life. She struggled with alcohol abuse and gender representation. The way she felt inside did not make sense to her family or body, and she began to reject the clothes she was “supposed to wear.” Coupled with the recent death of her best friend, Rivera began to feel like she was not going to survive on her own.
“How do you get a job when you look like a dyke,” Rivera asked. “Nobody wants to hire you, they don’t want you to go to school, they don’t want you teaching, they don’t fucking want you at the baby shower, they want you to put on a dress and do what they say.”
This type of isolation and fear had kept her in places where she made bad decisions, and this bright yellow book is now representative of how thankful she is that she held on and kept pushing through.
“I’m still here, I’m alive and thriving,” Rivera said. ”I have a fucking book tour and I get to spend it with my favorite people.”