When Everything Feels Like The Movies is Raziel Reid’s debut novel and the recipient of the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award in the category of Children’s and Young Adult Fiction. Mr. Reid received the award at the age of twenty-four, making him the youngest recipient of Canada’s most prestigious and coveted literary award in this category. The book has also been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Children’s and Young Adult Fiction, and for The Ferro-Grumley Award, as part of the Triangle Awards. The novel came in second in the Canada Reads 2015 battle of books as the one book to break down barriers.
Inspired by the tragically true story of Larry Forbes King, a fourteen year-old boy from California who was shot in the head by a male classmate whom Larry had asked to be his Valentine, When Everything Feels Like The Movies is at once the raw, funny, disturbing and heart-breaking story of Jude Rothesay, a fifteen year-old junior high schooler in small town “anywhere” and “nowhere” North America.
Openly gay and fiercely glam, Jude has a penchant for pink lip gloss and his mother’s high heels, and dreams of becoming famous. Jude’s school life is harshly oppressive. He is mocked, bullied and beaten. His home life fares little better as dysfunction abounds. Jude lives with his mother who, although does love and accept him, is a stripper with serious self-esteem issues. Jude’s biological father is for the most part absent, and his stepfather is controlling and abusive. Despite the abuse that Jude suffers at school and the neglect at home, there are a few good things in his life – his younger half-brother Keefer who loves Jude unconditionally and whom Jude both loves and protects, his cat Stoned Hairspray, his best and equally outcast friend Angela and his teacher Mr. Dawson.
For Jude, school is just like a movie set, where no one is real and everyone is playing their part. There’s The Crew that make things happen; The Extras who fill the empty desks; and The Movie Stars, whom everyone wants tagged in their Facebook photos. But Jude doesn’t fit in. He’s not part of The Crew because he isn’t about to do anything unless it’s court-appointed; he’s not an Extra because nothing about him is anonymous; and he’s not a Movie Star because even though everyone knows his name like an A-lister, he isn’t invited to the cool parties. As the director calls action, Jude is the flamer that lights the set on fire.
The story is narrated in the first person, exclusively by Jude and the author ascribes a level of agency to this character that does not permit the reader to see him as victim, despite his victimization and the realities of his life. Jude is extremely intelligent with a cynical wit and astute in his observations. He is also unfiltered and in-your-face both in terms of his rich inner voice and in his interaction with the other characters within his own movie. Mr. Reid’s portrayal of Jude as someone who is unflinching and proud and who refuses to shirk or apologize for who and what he is, is the foundational power of this story and this character.
In keeping with the movie theme, the novel is highly visual, the dialogue realistic and staccato and the pace of the story dynamic. The use of movie terminology by the author in delineating chapter titles and themes, such as “Preproduction,” “Hair and Make-Up,” “The Set” and “Director’s Cut,” and the movie lens through which Jude both sees and narrates his life are quite effective in helping the reader understand that this is not metaphor or some form of fantasy escape for him. Rather, it is the very real means through which Jude not only copes with his reality, but also more importantly is able to emotionally survive the humiliation and violence that he endures.
Despite Jude’s audacity, it becomes heartbreakingly clear that he is scared, alone and in search of acceptance and love. While Jude has a decent relationship with his mother, her own issues limit her as a parent. Jude’s mostly absent father equally falls short. Although he does show up and tries to make up for lost time, and despite Jude’s deep-seated longing for a father, it is too late for both of them. His brother Keefer’s love is unconditional and pure, but he is too young to help Jude. And finally, Jude’s best friend Angela has her own issues, and her insecurities and need for acceptance and love eventually betray their friendship. In the end, there is no one to help or protect Jude.
The reader is aware from the very beginning of the book that Jude’s story as presented within the timeline of the novel marks the beginning of the end. Throughout the novel there is a sense that both characters and reader are hurtling toward some inevitable and tragic finale. But, even with this foreshadowing the ending of the novel is no less powerful or heart wrenching.
The last part of the book, in particular the last scene, was my complete undoing and I shed hot and hard tears. But, when I finished reading and put the book down, I couldn’t help but think that as the credits roll Jude exits his final scene as he lived, on his own terms.
“In the morning my mom brought Keefer to see me, and I could hear them both crying. Mom told him that he had to say goodbye to me. ‘Why?’ Keefer asked. ‘Where’s Jude going?’
‘But he can’t go like this,” Keefer cried. ‘He wouldn’t go anywhere like this!’ I heard the zipper of my mom’s purse and the sound of her cosmetics clinking together as Keefer brought over her makeup bag and climbed up on the bed next to me.
He put the lipstick on my lips so carefully that he didn’t smudge even a little. For the first time in his life he stayed in the lines. I hoped he wouldn’t make a habit of it. ‘Pink,” he said to me softly. ‘Your favourite.’ He touched up my nails too, blowing on them as they dried.
It was officially Valentine’s Day when he arrived. He sat next to me and took my hand. ‘You’re wearing nail polish,’ he sobbed. He stayed with me for a while, then I heard my mom come into the room. The sound of her crying was soothingly familiar. When it became muffled, it was because she and my dad were hugging, their wet faces buried in the curves of each other’s neck like they were eighteen again.”
When Everything Feels Like The Movies is an extremely well written novel and one I highly recommend for readers of all ages. Mr. Reid comes at the issues faced by gay and gender non-conforming youth, with devastating realism, urgency and impatience using language and imagery that while may be provocative to some older adults, is recognizable to Generation Y – the book’s designated reading audience. It is uncompromising in its depiction of the realities and often horrors of Jude’s life leaving the reader disturbed and uncomfortable, with no room for reading complacency. There is no happy ending in this story, there can’t be, because what happens to Jude, still happens to LGBTQ youth. Jude is a character that is not easily forgettable, which of course is exactly what he would hope and want, and Mr. Reid is courageous for bringing him to life.
When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid is available in Canada through Arsenal Pulp Press, Chapters-Indigo and Amazon Canada. It will be available in the United States starting in April 2015 at Amazon US and Barnes and Noble.
MUSIC: Good Mother – Jann Arden (Living Under June, 1994)
POSTSCRIPT: There was a dust-up against When Everything Feels Like The Movies earlier this year by one Canadian conservative newspaper columnist who called the book “values-void” and a petition to strip Mr. Reid of his Governor General’s Award by a lesser known Canadian young adult author because of, in her opinion, the novel’s “offensive and graphic” words and images.
The Canada Council for the Arts (the body responsible for the Governor General’s Literary Awards) stood by its chosen recipient and the unnecessary commotion only served to further promote the novel by stirring reader curiosity and even defiance, in response to what many consider (myself included) homophobia and censorship. Increased media attention as a result of the kerfuffle coupled with the exposure that the book received during the Canada Reads 2015 debates resulted in the novel steadily flying off the shelves in Canada. When Everything Feels Like The Movies recently made the bestsellers list among Canadian independent bookstores, as well as that of The Globe and Mail.
The book will be released in the United States in April 2015, and Little, Brown Book Groups has acquired the United Kingdom and Commonwealth country rights to the book, for release in e-book format in summer 2015 and in paperback in 2016. Mr. Reid is currently working on the film adaptation of When Everything Feels Like The Movies with Random Bench Productions.