When Everything Feels Like the Movies

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A tough one.  Winner of the Governor General’s Award in 2014, this story is inspired in part by the 2008 murder of gay teenager Lawrence King in California.  King’s shooter pleaded not guilty, and blamed King himself for the shooting, saying the boy had sexually harassed him and made him the victim of bullying.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies doesn’t hide the tragic ending.

Jude (nicknamed Judy by his homophobic classmates) is an outcast.  Everyone in his middle school falls into one of three categories, except Jude:

I definitely wasn’t a part of the Crew; I wasn’t about to be involved in anything unless it was court-appointed. I wasn’t an Extra because the last thing I could ever be was anonymous. But I wasn’t a Movie Star either because, even though everyone knew my name, I wasn’t invited to the cool parties.  So there was me, the flamer that lit the set on fire.

In his eyes, he’s destined for stardom, for the admiration and the scandal that is part and parcel.  He sees his life in movie scenes, and writes the characters and endings to suit him.  But the novel itself is not about stardom; rather, it is about Jude’s attempt to break away and save himself.

Jude suffers daily abuse from schoolmates, both physical and mental.  They consider hash tagging suggestions of his death a sport (#WhyJudyShouldDie), and ambush him whenever possible, in the toilets, in the park.  His stepfather hates him, and beats him at the slightest provocation, real or imagined.

He does have some support.  His younger half-brother Keefer adores and protects him, and his mother, while torn between her abusive husband and her son, shows flashes of love for him.  Mr Dawson, his closeted English teacher, tells him it is better to be hated for who you are, then loved for who you aren’t.  But sporadic love cannot overcome the hatred he faces.

BFF Angela is different.  While she loves Jude, she is out for herself.  She is sleeping her way through the school, keeping a list, using abortion as birth control.  The extent of her final betrayal was a shock, but as I considered it, it seemed more in character than I first thought.  Strike out in a manner that would hurt the most; consequences are never considered.

And there is Luke.  While Jude fantasizes about him, he also acknowledges he isn’t in love with him.  He just wants Luke to want him.

Jude is a vibrant and vulnerable character. He accepts himself, even as he wishes for a different life.  In many ways, he courts the abuse, seeing the attention as part of his stardom.  He leaves the graffiti  “faggot” on his locker as a tribute, and flirts with the more homophobic amongst his classmates.  He definitely does not want to be abused, but he feels more in control if he “asks” for it, acts like it doesn’t matter. He wants the right to be.

The book is well written. It is amazing. It isn’t … enjoyable to read.  Or easy.  I put it down several times, even while wondering what happens next.  Which is fine.  Books should challenge and even horrify you, if that’s what it takes to get a story told.

Raziel Reid writes a GREAT story, but I think it is written too old.  The sex, the drugs, the multiple abortions, they just didn’t ring true for middle school, on that scale.  That said, if his intention is to shock, he succeeds.  And most likely, the book would not have the same impact without the graphic scenes.

This book will make you think.  While it is YA fiction, I would say for the upper end of the age bracket, not the lower.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies is published by Arsenal Pulp Press.

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