4 out of 4 stars
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Juliana by Vanda is a Historical Fiction novel about LGBT people in the 1940s. It’s not very often that a work of fiction will really speak to my heart, but this book certainly did. I found myself feeling heartbroken, furious, embarrassed, and enticed all through the eyes of the first person narrator, Al. Al moves from the country and her parents to New York City to become an actress with her childhood friends, Danny, Aggie, and Dickie. It isn’t long before her plans start to unravel. She meets Juliana, and she is immediately drawn to her. From then on she is slowly whisked into a community of people that she didn’t even know existed.
The author’s greatest strength in this book is the characters. Each one has a very distinct personality to the point that I periodically forgot that these are not real people. It’s the type of book that makes you forget that you are just reading. Once I really got into the book, I didn’t want to stop. The scenes are painted so vividly it feels like you really are walking the streets of New York in the 1940s. Everything from the language to the outfits to people’s prejudices seem very realistic. The realistic elements can also make the book hard to read. The struggles of World War II and the prejudices against women, race, and homosexuality are accurately depicted, and it’s not pretty. However, this is not a depressing read by any means, which I believe is a real feat.
This book deals with some really heavy subjects and has a lot of erotic sex scenes. For this reason, I definitely cannot recommend this to anyone under eighteen. I feel though that in many cases, for this type of book, the sex scenes were necessary. Without the heterosexual and lesbian sex scenes, the reader would not be able to identify with the character as much and understand how having sex with men was unnatural for her. This is an essential part of the novel and the author’s message. Portraying the vileness of sexual assault would not be possible without it either.
What really hit me hard about this novel was how it really let me experience that women rarely had anyone to turn to in many situations. Juliana shows that there was an unbelievable amount of daily judgment that women had to experience. One of my favorite characters is Shirl, a transgender woman. The author does an excellent job of explaining how scary being a transgender woman was during this time period. I was heartbroken reading about the disrespect and isolation that the LGBT community suffered for being who they were. Their resilience shines through Vanda’s pages.
I found around three small typos in the version I was given to review. My flow of reading was never interrupted. I am delighted to rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I learned a lot from this book, but I felt like I experienced it instead. The setting, characters, and raw emotions are overwhelmingly lifelike. It is clear from the culture and song references as well that a lot of research went into writing this book. I look forward to reading Volume II when it is released.
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