I put in a request for this book as soon as it made the Top 5 cut for the 2015 Canada Reads debate. It finally arrived, too late for the debates, but never too late for driving home its urgent message.
By now, most of you have probably heard of this book, or have already read it. It won the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature, then swiftly got caught up in a controversy over its appropriateness for this award. It is jam-packed full of graphic sex and references to sex, gay and straight, there is non-stop use of mind-altering substances, and sickening instances of bullying. To make it even more upsetting, these kids are only in grade 8. Like my daughter. Devastating is the word for this book, right down to very last page. But, don’t let this stop you from reading it. Let it make you uncomfortable, look past the surface of this story, and see the children who are aching to be loved and valued for who they are.
I used to wonder if the parents who looked at me and my yellow blanket in the nursery with all the other babies that I was a little boy or girl. If it mattered. If, on my first day on earth, I wasn’t either. I was just beautiful.
Jude longs to be a movie star, and he is not afraid to show it. He wears his mother’s clothes and make-up, and the kids at school call him Judy. He imagines that his bullies are his fans and school is the studio. This is how he survives his day-to-day life as a gay boy in a small town. In fact, I believe that if it weren’t for his imagination and his dreams he would never have made it as far as he did.
I wanted them to hate me; hate was as close to love as I thought I’d ever be.
Imagine what Jude’s life might have been like if he had felt loved and accepted for who he was. He could have had a chance – at least as much of a chance as the rest of us. That’s all he’s asking for.
I loved lies because, when you’re a lie, you’re anything, you’re everything.
Sometimes you just have to keep fooling yourself or you’ll never survive.
Should children (14+) be reading this?
Some people are questioning whether or not our children should be reading this book. Maybe they’re worried Jude and Amanda’s behavior will rub off on them. I don’t know who would read this and think to themselves that the characters in the book have enviable lives. Instead, I believe it will evoke compassion and a better understanding of what kids like Jude go through everyday. Hopefully, our kids will grow up to be more accepting of differences than our generations have proven to be. And, books like this are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
I always hoped that if I could give Keefer another world he could escape to (books and stories), he might survive this one.
Inspired by true events:
This story was inspired by true events, specifically the shooting of Larry Fobes King when he asked someone to be his Valentine. Unfortunately, we will never know what Jude and others like him could have offered the world, because their lives have been cut short by people who felt threatened by their differences.
Passing it on:
I do not pretend to have the answers, but reading is always a good place to start. Reading this book, for me, was a good way to start a conversation with my children. My 10-year-old daughter was drawn to the cover of the book and wanted to know what it was about. So, we talked about the book (obviously, not all the gory details) and the message that the writer is trying to get across. This is not be the one and only conversation we have had on this topic, but it gave us the opportunity to revisit it and to dig a little deeper.
Questions/Comments for discussion:
I think this would make a great book club choice. I came out of it with a few questions and comments that I would love to hear other people’s opinions on.
~ I would love to talk about Angela – her character frightened me, for one thing, but I also couldn’t quite figure her real self out. I want to know what’s causing her to fall apart at such a young age.
~ I went into this book expecting the very worst after everything I had heard about it. Jude’s home life was not good, but I think it could have been worse. There were a few people in his life that cared about him. I guess this isn’t always enough. Or maybe it was at least enough to keep him dreaming about a better life?
~ What is it that makes Jude so much stronger than Luke? Jude handles being bullied his whole life, but Luke can’t take it for more than a few days. Maybe Jude has built up a tolerance for it because it is all he has ever known?
~ One thing I couldn’t put my finger on, but was enlightened after reading Casey’s review of the book, was that Reid did not make Jude out to be a typical victim. This story is not black and white. Jude is not meek and blameless. Luke is not pure evil.
~ What do you think of Mr. Dawson? I couldn’t quite figure him out. Also his statement to Jude that “it’s better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not”. Do you think that’s always true?
One thing is sure, Raziel Reid knows what he’s doing.
For a couple of emotional, gut-wrenching reviews of this book, read Eva’s and Rick’s. After reading their reviews, I thought I might just skip one and refer you to theirs, but then I managed to find some things of my own to say, after all. I love this line from Eva’s review: His little brother always saw Jude the way that Jude wanted everyone to see him – as fabulous. And, this one from Rick’s: This story is filled with violence and intolerance and exclusion, but if you think this is a novel about hate then you’ve entirely missed the point. I have tears in my eyes from re-reading their reviews. Go read them!
On Raziel Reid, and when everything feels like a controversy at the National Post talks about the controversy surrounding this book, and how ridiculous it is (my words).
Raziel Reid talks about his book, the inspiration behind it, and what it means to him.
When Everything Feels Like the Movies was part of the Canada Reads debates this year, and the book was the runner up. Lainey Lui had some passionate things to say about it.
29 thoughts on “When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid”
I have yet to write about this book and like you, was feeling like maybe it’s too late. You’re inspired me, however. Like you, I was drawn to Angela. What struck me is that the people calling for this book to be banned, when pressed, would usually point to things that were more about Angela than about Jude, i.e. casual sex, teen pregnancy, abortion. Remember Jude is a virgin when the book begins. There was a particular comment made by one of the panelists on Canada Reads that made me think of this.
Ooh I can’t imagine having a child this age while reading this book!! Will your 13 year old read this? Should she? You’re in a better position than me to judge I think. I read Evelyn Lau’s Runaway around this age I think, have you read that?
You’re right – people really don’t like Amanda. I just felt sorry for her, especially when Jude talks about what he thinks Amanda’s life will end up being some day. I can’t imagine her lifestyle making anyone reading the book want to be like her, though, so I don’t really get the argument that kids will be negatively influenced by reading the book. But, I would love to know Amanda’s story – what is causing her to act out like that? From what we can see, her family seems pretty normal.
Ever since reading the book, I have been wondering about whether or not I would want my daughter to read it. Yes, but maybe not quite yet. She’s a young 13 and hangs out with a group that also seem still so young and innocent. I’m not scared she’s going to be corrupted, but it’s that feeling of wanting to protect from all things wrong with the world. Maybe in another year or two…
I never read Runaway, but it sounds gut-wrenching. Really, it’s the substance abuse that scares me the most. How do you think it compares to WEFLTM in terms of shock value? Was it marketed as YA or adult?
Thanks for the shout-out!
I remember reading Runaway when I was around 14 too. It scared the crap out of me, but I also think what I needed was to have someone to talk to about it. I think if a 13-year-old had an older person (maybe not a parent?) to talk to about this book, it could be really great for them.
At the age of 13, talking about it with someone would be a good idea. After thinking about it for a while, I also think that it depends on the child. Some might be ready for it, while others might want to wait a couple more years. I feel like my own daughter is a young 13 (I don’t know if this is good or bad, the result of something I’ve done or the way she would have turned out anyway), so I feel like I want to ‘protect’ her from the world a little bit longer. And, when I say ‘world’, I’m really talking about drugs. Drugs scare the crap out of me. In fact, I can read a lot of things, but if there is one thing that really gets to me in books, it’s substance abuse. I don’t know why. Some kids, though, would definitely be way ahead of others.
I love this post so much Naomi! I’m glad you still decided to post about this – you had so much to add to the discussion!
So many things. First, thanks for the lovely words about my post. I’m glad that it evoked such an emotional reaction! Any time I read about this book, I tear up all over again. This book has serious staying power.
Like lauratfrey, I can’t imagine reading this and having a child the same age as Jude. Your heart must have stood still at some points! But I like how open minded you are about the book and it’s subject matter where your kids are concerned. Obviously you are a reader, this is what we do. But still. This book is tough to read and I imagine that instinctually, you always try to protect your kids from anything difficult so it’s no small thing that you so willingly discuss this book with your kids. If only more parents were so open minded when it comes to their children’s reading material!
I hadn’t really thought about the fact that Jude was so much stronger than Luke until you pointed it out, but you’re so right. It’s probably that Jude has known he was different for so long, that people would always find reasons to hate on him so he had to love himself. Luke’s life has probably always been a lot more straight forward and when it’s not, he can’t handle it.
If your post gets one more person to read this book and think about the world differently, what an impact you will have made!
Thanks for the lovely comment, Eva! After reading your review (and Rick’s), I really couldn’t imagine that I would have anything more to say, but after I read the book, I changed my mind. We all seem to be agreeing about this book, so what is the difference between us and the people who don’t like it and think it’s bad for kids?
I still do feel like a protective Mama bear. One of the reasons I spoke to my kids about the book was that I thought it was a good way to talk about it without any of them reading it yet. It really is scary to think about the kids in the book being only in grade 8. But, like I said in the previous comments, I’m mostly just putting it off a little longer, because I just don’t think my daughter is quite ready for it yet. Others could easily be, though. But, they are never too young to think about different lifestyles and the effects of bullying.
Luke’s reaction struck me right away as a complete inability to cope with any kind of teasing or bullying coming his way. And, I wondered what made him so extreme. Because, other than that, he seems like a normal kid. That’s another scary thing about this book – it shows what seemingly ‘ordinary’ kids are capable of. And, at that age, they aren’t thinking about consequences.
I think a big difference is that we read a lot. We understand the power of books and reading – not everyone does. Those people haven’t actually read the book but they’ve heard that there is sex and violence, drugs and bad language and it’s automatically bad. Because kids are idiots and are clearly incapable of reading something and not doing the exact same thing [heavy sarcasm]. I think there is a big fear that books like this somehow glamourize sex and drugs and violence and kids will read it and go “that sounds awesome, let’s go get really f*cked up!” In reality, this is probably as good a cautionary tale as any and it’s not really about all those things is it? But those are the people that are unable to get past it, the ones that understand why Luke did what he did.
I think you’re right that a lot of people who have heard about or read this book can’t get past the sex, drugs, and violence to hear the real message. And, that they don’t believe teens can handle it and process it. I also think some people see their behavior as unrealistic for 14-year-olds (denial?), but one reason I think it’s so good is because the author is still so close in age and his own experiences with the kids in his book. I think he knows what he’s writing about.
The thought that anyone can understand why Luke did what he did gives me the shivers.
Well, this is the first I’m hearing of this one, but I’m totally intrigued! I don’t read too much YA, but when I hear about it in ways like this I usually feel like I can trust it, so thank you!
I don’t read a lot of YA either, but this is a YA novel all adults should read. The subject matter is important , and was the kind of thing that would have still been hushed up when we were young. The writing is wonderful, and one of the reasons I think Raziel Reid is able to write about this subject and about young people so well, is because, at the age of 25, he is still so close to it.
I think you bring up a very important point that people often forget: it is unlikely that a young person would read this and envy anyone in this book. I would probably feel uncomfortable to discuss the content of this book with my kids, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. Life and people can be nasty and difficult, and that is why it is important to talk about it. Your post actually reminded me of the book Go Ask Alice. My dad gave me the book for Christmas when I was in 7th grade, and my mom later told me that they had reservations about having me read it. The book scared the sh** out of me and played a big part in me never being tempted to do drugs. It sounds like the devastating subject matter of this book can have a similar positive influence on its readers. I certainly plan on reading it.
I have never read Go Ask Alice, either. Thanks for letting me know about it! If it scared you off drugs, then I just might give it to my daughter. Then, maybe Runaway, then WEFLTM. There, now I feel like I have a plan. 🙂 I feel like WEFLTM kind of combines everything, except for the running away.
Oh yeah, Go Ask Alice is terrifying. It was reprinted a few years ago and billed as this anonymous true story. It’s tragic and horrifying and would likely go a long way to making its readers stay away from drugs!
Sounds good! What else could I scare my kids with? 🙂
I credit Trainspotting with keeping me from trying hard drugs… if that helps… I remember my grandparents were shocked that my parents let me watch it because it glorifies drug use. Ummm. Everyone is completely fucked up or dies… 🙂 The book would probably be too difficult for a 14 yr old just because of a dialect, watch the movie first…
Yes! Trainspotting was horrifying.
After reading it, did you think it was appropriate as children’s literature?
I think when people hear ‘children’s literature’, they think children. But children’s literature includes 14+, and yes, I think that it’s appropriate for that age range. I’m not saying that it’s comfortable and heart-warming. It’s a book to shake us up, and make us think. The same goes for any teen who reads it. I also don’t think the content of it will shock them as much as we think it will (wish it would).
Like I said before, I also think it depends on the child. Even as adults, some of us can handle reading tough subjects and some of us can’t.
Oh, I usually call that young adult, but I guess for the prize, it would be all-inclusive.
Yes, exactly. 🙂
Oh Naomi, I loved your review and share many of your thoughts on this book. I was able to really relate to the characters in this book because I also went to high school in a tiny, backwards town where there was nothing to do, so many of my friends and peers killed our boredom by partying and doing crazy things like the characters in WEFLTM. Amanda reminds me so much of my friends, I feel like her actions were a combination of being boy-crazy and a need to feel wanted/loved which she got through sex. I think a lot of the behaviour we see in this book has to do with the lack of parenting and role models in the lives of these kids. The parents of these characters are never around! Even with friends and supportive teachers it’s parents that matter the most.
Since the GG Awards doesn’t have a YA category, I can see how people may have overreacted to the book winning a “children’s” award. I agree with you that books like WEFLTM can promote understanding and empathy. If my children were in the age range as the characters, I would let them read the book and hope they would discuss it with me afterwards.
Very true! The parents aren’t around much. I was just assuming that the parents weren’t around for the sake of the story, but, you’re right, they are probably just never around anyway.
Well, luckily for my own kids, I’m always around! Haha. (They might not always think it’s so great.)
This is the first time I’m hearing about this book. Canada Reads should have more press, especially on Booktube. Concerning the subject matter, it sounds damn intense and depressing. I’m not sure I’d pick it up put who knows. These ostentatious novels seem to be the thing at the moment. It’ as if publishing companies feel that everybody is asleep. Kids will probably read this book and 99,9ù will probably thing the behavior is over the top. Lessons can be learned from reading books. Teenagers aren’t as naive as we adults would like to believe.
Your comment reminds me (thank you!) that I forgot to mention the tone of the book. It’s actually not written in a depressing way. At times, it is even funny. Jude is the narrator, and he’s not looking for pity – he wants to be remembered as fabulous. So, if it makes any sense, the story is devastating, but the tone is on the light side.
The fact that it’s on the light side with all the things people are saying is probably what would depress me. I guess I’ll have to pick it up to understand.
I’m not going to lie and say it’s not depressing, but it really is interesting how he wrote it.
Ok If I ever decide to read it I’ll keep that in mind.
I found it an interesting read but I told my wife to give it a miss; I knew she wouldn’t get through it. It is not for everyone.
It is a tough read, which is not what everyone is looking for in their books.