When Everything Feels Like the Movies
When Everything Feels Like the Movies is the arresting début novel from twenty-five year old Canadian author, Raziel Reid. This is not a romance. There is the dream of love, but this is a ‘punch in the gut’ – a ‘wake-up call’, for our society.
Jude is a fifteen-year-old eighth grade student in America. He is gay, gender queer and living a life few of us would wish on our worst enemies. His father left long ago and his mother is a pole dancer and stripper who has an abusive boyfriend, Ray – father of Jude’s beloved younger brother, Keefer. Jude’s relationship with his little brother, the only pure and gentle relationship in his life, is believable and sweetly written.
In order to avoid Ray as much as possible and have a space of his own, Jude moves into the basement to sleep in, but it remains a basement and isn’t adapted for Jude in any way. It has breezeblocks for walls, is freezing cold and contains only Jude’s bed and a few treasured posters of Marilyn Monroe.
This opening sentence certainly sets the tone for Jude’s first person brash, narrative; I would’ve gone down for a pair of Louboutins (I think they call that “head over heels”)…
– but the remainder of the sentence reveals more;
but the closest I ever got was kissing the feet of celebrities in tabloid magazines.
The story is set in a poor mining town, where the mine has closed down. Jude’s life plays out against a backdrop of poverty, redneck attitudes and homophobia. Although it is Jude’s story, none of the young players in this drama have benefitted from good parenting or a compassionate start in life.
Jude disgusts the town and his school because he does not adhere to gender rules. He’s beautiful; which causes boys to doubt their solid masculinity, girls jealous of how he looks and how the boys react to him. He offends by wearing make-up to school and always has painted nails. None of his actions break the rules for school attire however, but they were written to apply to girls, so no one knows what to do with Jude. He has a best friend, a girl called Angela, who at nearly fifteen keeps a list of boys she’s slept with under the table at their regular booth in the local diner. Although she’s his best friend, Jude once mentions tellingly that the only thing she really notices is a late period.
There is a heart-breaking juxtaposition between the way Jude and his peers are portrayed, and the gentler, kinder way Keefer is spoken of and treated It is as though the author is reminding the reader how childhood should be, and what bigotry and self-absorption is doing to children. Jude does everything he can to keep the harsh realities of life from his little brother. However, the only way Jude can cope with his own life of endless bullying and cruelty is to live in denial. He isn’t a student – he is a beautiful starlet, the bullies and name callers merely ‘paparazzi’, and fans – always wanting something from him. He retreats into a world where he is famous, adored and nothing can touch him. Sadly, not even his imagination can save him in the end.
The thought provoking passage below…
In the first picture ever taken of me, I’m lying in the hospital nursery wrapped in a yellow blanket. Not blue like all the other baby boys or pink like all the girls. It was a yellow blanket, which I kept my whole life. I’d sleep with it every night. Even when I was too old and it embarrassed me, I loved it. But then I always loved things that didn’t love me back.
I used to wonder if the parents who looked at me and my yellow blanket in the nursery with all the other babies thought 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.
…might just reveal one of the most important lessons in this short, heart-breaking novel. As a day old innocent, baby Jude was just beautiful. The other equally innocent infants had already been labelled by the colour of their blankets. Does a day go by when we don’t apply a set of expectations to someone or judge them by a set of gender rules we had no part in making?
This story spans a matter of weeks, and feels somehow claustrophobic. With the exception of Jude, everything is written small, confined and ordinary – even though the unfolding events are anything but. There have been many protestations about this book that the fourteen and fifteen year old students depicted are too young for sexual activity or gender questioning. The drug taking and language come in for similar outrage. I read reviews that say, ‘Well my children and their friends are nothing like this and don’t use that language…’ and I’m glad for that because maybe it means those children have better parenting, or schooling, and are surrounded by understanding adults. Sadly, though, this story did happen. It is based on events that took place in the U.S.A in 2008 and additional details are from the author’s own teen years.
When Everything Feels Like the Movies would be difficult to sell as a YA book because everything except the ages goes against the ‘rules’ for YA. In this story all the events, actions and consequences belong to, and happen to fourteen and fifteen year olds. It is outrageous, and difficult because it should never have happened. This novel is also beautiful in its harshness. I loved the character of Jude, and his sad, tawdry dreams of fame and glamour, broke my heart.
When Everything Feels Like the Movies is a literary warning that the next generation is in danger of growing up to see fame as an ambition rather than the rare result of work and career. Most of all it is a plea for thought, understanding and tolerance. If a child dresses in make-up and frills, we smile – if the child is now a teen, and still wants to wear make-up and nail varnish – who does it harm if their name is Jude rather than Judy?