Just Juliet book review: I’m sorry. I really wanted to like it.

 In Reviews - Books

From the first time I saw it, I knew I would read Just Juliet by Charlotte Reagan eventually.  I loved the cover, it had a ton of positive reviews, and it stayed at the top of the Amazon charts for forever before it finally started to fall.

So by the time I finally bought it a couple of days ago, I was excited to read it.  And I was looking forward to really liking it.

But try as I might, I couldn’t like it.  I just couldn’t.

Sigh.

Here’s what I enjoyed about this cute teen lesfic.

Before I explain why I didn’t connect to this book, I should explain what I *did* enjoy about it.  After all, it was good enough that I read the whole thing, and did so over the course of a scant two days.  So I did gobble it up, despite its flaws, and I have definitely abandoned books I found unreadable before.  Which means this was definitely readable.  Even enjoyable at points.

1. I liked what a positive story it is for queer / questioning teens.

Much like the other young adult lesfic book I recently read and reviewed, the author goes out of her way to make this story a positive one for queer and questioning teens.  I think that’s great.  I applaud it.  And it was also nice that this was a story about queer girls that includes lots of screen time for the co-starring queer boys.  Positive representation is hugely important to me, as I’ve mentioned several times before on this blog, and this story definitely goes out of its way to show that coming out can be a challenging but ultimately rewarding and supported process.

2.  The characters were adorably cute.

The aforementioned boys, especially, were adorable.  I wanted to fold them up and put them in my pocket.  The rest of the cast was also likable and cute.

3.  I’m a sucker for a well-developed cheerleader.

My favorite character in the book was actually one of the heterosexual allies, the sassy cheerleader best friend of the main character.  The character, Lacey, has some of the best dialog in the book, and unlike a lot of cheerleader characters, she’s well-rounded and has some depth to her.  I felt like she stole the show.

4.  I love that the main character comes out as bi and not gay.

Bisexuals sometimes get a bad rap in the LGBTQ community.  In this book, it’s great to see Lena, the narrator, struggle with her identity and come to the conclusion that she’s not gay but bi.  Her questioning process and eventual conclusion feels realistic, modern, and it resonates.

5.  The relationship between the two leading ladies is fun and comfortable.

I like the relationship that develops between Lena and her love interest, the titular character, Juliet.  It feels organic, natural, and their dynamic is often a lot of fun.

On to why I just didn’t like it in the end.

Before I go any further, I want to say this:  Props to Charlotte Reagan for writing this book.  She’s got a great writing style that’s easy to read, and Just Juliet has been extremely successful and popular.  I’m really happy for the author that it’s been so popular.

And I don’t think I didn’t like this because it’s a “bad book.”  I think I didn’t like it because it just wasn’t for me.  It’s just my opinion, and I’m not an expert.  Further, if the author puts out more work within this genre, I will almost definitely check it out.

Then why wasn’t it for me, you ask?  Well —

1. My main complaint is that nothing really happened.

I have this one-star review for my first novel that’s headlined with “Literally nothing cool happens in this book.”  It hurt to read that, but in retrospect, I think the reviewer was right:  My first novel had some serious pacing and plot problems.

Pardon me for giving you an unsolicited brief crash-course in novel plotting, but here’s how a novel structure works:

First there’s an Inciting Incident, in which the main character is pushed out of his or her normal reality.  For example, in the first Star Wars movie, the inciting incident is when Luke Skywalker comes home to discover that his aunt and uncle have been murdered.

Then we set up the characters until we get to the First Plot Point.  This is the moment when the main character’s quest is defined and the rest of the story is kicked off.

Tension continues to build until we hit the Midpoint.  The midpoint should be a big twist, a game-changer that introduces important new information and changes the direction the main character is going in.

From the Midpoint, the character works with this twist or new information until they hit the Second Plot Point.  In the second plot point, the antagonist hits the main character back hard, and/or there’s yet another big twist or insertion of new information that changes the game.

Around or right after the Second Plot Point, we hit the “All Hope Is Lost” lull.  This is the moment where the character is in an impossible situation and feels like they are going to be defeated.

Inevitably, the character bounces back from “All Hope Is Lost,” and uses the new information introduced by the Second Plot Point to defeat the antagonist and win the day.

The story ends with a few Resolution sequences, which tie up any loose ends and lead the reader to a satisfying conclusion.

With very few exceptions, that is how *every story* we have ever enjoyed is written.  Stories that miss these key markers, stories with weak plot points, or plot points that aren’t timed right, are the stories we don’t like.  I got a review titled “Literally nothing cool happens in this book” because my plot points were weak and/or put in the wrong places.

That’s my problem with Just Juliet.  The first plot point is a little bit weak; the midpoint is non-existent; and the second plot point is really good but comes much too late in the book.  The result, for me, was a book whose pacing was just “off” almost all the way through.  If I’d been her editor, I would’ve had her take the second plot point and put it right in the middle of the book as a midpoint, then the first sentence of her epilogue could end up as the second plot point, and most of the rest of the epilogue could be fleshed out into a resolution sequence.  (Sorry for being vague there, but I’m trying to prevent any spoilers.)

But as the novel’s written now, there’s just a whole lot of *nothing happening.*  It lacks the dramatic tension to make a compelling story.

2.  I never really felt deeply connected to the two main characters.

I already said that I loved the side-character Lacey, and the two gay boys were adorable.  But sometimes, I got the feeling that the author liked the boys (Scott and Lakyn) more than she liked her two main characters.  Scott, in particular, gets more screen time in the book than just about anyone.

I didn’t feel like I ever got a handle on Lena or Juliet.  Juliet was a little better fleshed out, but Lena, who is the narrator and the main character… I just never made an emotional connection with her.  I liked watching her go through her coming out process, that was interesting, but other than that, she seems… passive.  Her parents are cold and leave me feeling cold, but even Lena herself never seems to get much personality drawn around her. Her “voice” was inconsistent and she didn’t feel rounded-out.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of mystery around Juliet.  Some of it gets resolved, and some of it could’ve been left unsaid and just implied, but as it is, it’s almost *all* mystery, *all* left unsaid, which again just leaves me feeling disconnected from her.

By contrast, we get this great story from Scott about how his parents find him in bed with Lakyn and his dad slams Lakyn against the wall.  That’s compelling stuff.  But how come we don’t get anything equally emotional for either of the two girls, who, after all, are supposed to be the story’s center?  I’m not saying they needed to encounter violent homophobia, but they needed to encounter *something* that included tension and drama.

3.  Too much monologue.

Speaking of Scott, he and several other characters go on at length in monologue.  I could’ve used more dialog, a lot less monologue.  Show, don’t tell.

4.  Too much Message.

I mentioned earlier that I liked the fact that it has a positive message for queer and questioning teens.  While I do like that aspect, I felt like the author sometimes tried so hard to create a positive message that the Message became heavy-handed and got in the way of the story.

Example:  A lot of the middle of the book is just one good thing happening after another.  It reads a little like:

We went here and had fun.

Then we went here and had more fun.

Then Juliet’s dad said how much he loves us.

And then we went here and had fun.

I think it’s just trying to be positive, and that’s great, but if only good things happen to the characters, there’s really nothing to read about.  Again — not enough dramatic tension.

Conclusion:  3 stars

I’d still rate Just Juliet as “above average” in respect to the writing, overall story, and positive message.  But it had too many “craft” problems for me to really endorse it in the end.  I think I liked Style a bit better; Just Juliet has better writing, but Style did a better job with plotting and so forth.

So… I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just being a grouch.  Or maybe I’m getting too old to be reading teenage coming out novels.  Maybe I just don’t like coming out novels in general — maybe I’m too sick of them to read them with an open mind.

What about the rest of you?  Did you read Just Juliet?  And if you did, what did you think?

 

Featured image credit:  DeviantArt, Fashion design:  dresses Italy by TwISHH

 

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