What’s it like growing up gay and fabulous in dingy small town America? That’s one of the many questions explored in author Raziel Reid’s first novel When Everything Feels Like The Movies.
The book won the Governor General’s award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014 and was a runner up for CBC’s Canada Reads competition. More importantly, it was also the third selection of the Guelph Public Library’s LGBTQ book club led by yours truly!
Marketed by Arsenal Pulp Press as a young adult novel, the book is gritty and unapologetic in its depictions of sexuality, violence, and drug use. Narrator Jude Rothesay experiences the scene of his northern, small town high school as a film set. There are the stars, the supporting actors, the crew, the paparazzi, and so on. The book even comes with two completely different endings, one of them a “director’s cut,” requiring the reader to be actively involved in the making of this “film” by choosing which ending to believe.
Everyone in our book club loved the book, but there were mixed feelings about the main character. Personally, I was confused by some of the professional reviews I encountered. In some Jude, the main character, is held up as a “role model” and the book as a “beacon” for queer youth. I’m not so sure, neither were some of the folks in our book club –a dynamic, diverse, and well educated crew if there every was one. Around the table were a social worker, a teacher, a retired principal, a massage therapist, a professional actress, an educational assistant, a few folks whose careers I can’t remember right now, and me –a former teacher now librarian-in-training.
At one point our group wrestled with the question, “Should this book be available to (or marketed to) young adults?” Given the book’s mature subject matter, this was a legitimate question. The librarian in me screamed “Of course! Access! Access! Access!” But I also joined the consensus of the group that the book would be better taught than simply found and read by a fourteen-year-old on their own. “Kids should read this in their Grade Nine classrooms!” someone suggested. Personally, I think it would be a great follow-up read to To Kill a Mockingbird. Seriously!
A few people in the group found Jude’s character “annoying” and “foolish” but neither of them wanted to stop reading. Many in our group read the book as more of an indictment of the society around Jude and its failure to recognize any worth in its young people, especially young people who weren’t perfectly “normal.” A few of the more senior members of the group were somewhat shocked: “Good, Lord! Is this what kids go through these days!?”
At one point I held up the book and asked everyone: “Is this what happens when kids are forced to raise themselves?” Jude’s mother is all but absent and his step father mistreats him. One person in the group suggested that better kids raise themselves than be raised by the less-than-ideal adult figures in the story. Another pointed out that Jude didn’t readily go under the wing of the one positive adult figure in the story, one of Jude’s teachers. Of course, as it turns out, that may have been a good intuition on Jude’s part. As a character, it seemed everyone around the table wanted to either hug Jude or kick him in the behind. But no one wanted to leave him alone.
Ultimately, When Everything Feels Like The Movies is an ode to human creativity, an exposé of what an young man’s heart and mind are capable of when placed in a less-than-ideal environment amid more enemies than allies. Highly recommended!
I look forward to our book club’s next read, Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter by Alison Wearing, now available for pickup at the Main Branch.