Just Juliet: An LGBT Love Story, by Charlotte Reagan, is a love story written for young adults and anyone who wants a light yet poignant read. A coming of age story, it offers a perspective on one of the oldest themes in literature: love. It makes the reader honestly ask, what is love? How do we find it and how do we know it when it comes to us?
In the book, Lena Newman is seventeen years old. She has a typical high school life; at least the optics make it appear that way. She is dating a football player and her best friend is a cheerleader. She isn’t super popular, but she has an eclectic group of friends that one might find at any high school in America.
We are introduced to them in a predictable way, while they gather at their usual cafeteria table during lunch. We easily see the scene in our heads because not only have we all lived it in our own world, but nearly every TV show or movie about high schoolers features a similar scene so we can quickly and easily get to know the characters.
For example, this is how readers are introduced to one member of the motley crew: “Georgia Harris, who was taller than any of us, sat in front of Lacey. She had natural tan skin, sharp features, and long curly hair. A few years ago, Georgia had been that one girl everyone just knew. Then she’d gotten pregnant the summer between sophomore and junior year and had come back changed. She’d dumped most of her old crew, dropped her schedule down to half a day to get a job, and started chilling with us. She was a single mom to a beautiful biracial daughter and on good terms with the baby daddy. Maybe we were a table of outcasts, but it worked for us.”
All is typical in Lena’s world until someone new comes on the scene. Juliet James makes Lena question her sexuality and a lot more. She is forced to question her relationship with her boyfriend as she discovers that her romantic orientation isn’t what she assumed it to be.
There is a positive message that resonates throughout the book. Reagan seemed intent on focusing on the everyday stuff that we all deal with. This makes the book real and down-to-earth. It isn’t a ballsy coming out story with angst and pain and smothering heartache, it is something anyone and everyone can relate to. That universal theme helps make Just Juliet: A LGBT Love Story relatable for all.
The story is a heartstring-tugger, though. Sometimes bitter, it is mostly sweet. It makes the reader feel for the characters and has plenty of tender, poignant moments. This emotional roller coaster takes the reader on ride with Lena as friendships and loyalty are tested, her family and her relationship with others are all put on the line.
At its core, Just Juliet: An LGBT Love Story is just that, a love story. Sexual and romantic orientation is the driving conflict in the story. Lena identifies as a straight female in the beginning. After all, she has a boyfriend and many female friendships that are not at all sexual. Upon meeting Juliet, her romantic orientation comes to light. In the end, she is not lesbian, but bisexual, and the idea of understanding that sexual and romantic orientation are not one and the same, is vital for her journey to self-understanding.
It is because there is a stereotype that being gay, or bisexual, or anything that is not heteronormative, that there is ultimately so much conflict when it comes up. If the book simply told the story of a girl who broke up with her boyfriend for another boy, it would not have the drama that it does.
The end of the book is a soft retrospective that pulls it all into focus. It is a romance, after all, and by definition, romances have happy endings.
One of the likeable aspects of this book, is the fact that it is easy to read and easy to fall in love with the characters. The stakes are just high enough to make it enjoyable. There are no “edge-of-your-seat” or “nail-biting” moments. Reagan made sure that her writing would be appreciated for the themes and over-arching message. She does this eloquently, making Just Juliet: An LGBT Love Story, an enjoyable book with positive and uplifting moments for all who read it.