School is just like a film set: there’s The Crew, who 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 know 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.
Before everything turns to ashes from the resulting inferno, Jude drags his best friend Angela off the casting couch and into enough melodrama to incite the paparazzi, all while trying to fend off the haters and win the heart of his favourite co-star Luke Morris. It’s a total train wreck!
But train wrecks always make the front page. — [X]
It figures that Steph would pick a book that could be described as “gritty”. In a fantasy setting I absolutely loathe that word and everything it has to offer. In a realistic setting, if done right, it is a well-needed reminder that gritty is a part of people’s lives and I have the privilege to sit on my ass and decide whether or not I choose to peer into their lives or not. So, I guess what I’m saying is that, yes, Raziel Reid’s When Everything Feels Like the Movies was a difficult book to read but if I see one more whiny Goodreads review about how awful it is, I might explode. If the book was unenjoyable that is only because the reality it reflects is an abhorrent one– one that real people deal with on a daily basis with little chance of escape.
Jude, the protagonist of the novel, is an openly gay teenager. He has two obsessions: fame (at any cost) and Luke (at any cost). His best friend Angela is– whether this is because of Jude or the author– pretty one dimensional and is on a quest to sleep with the football team. (A quest that consumes her ability to be a good friend.) Jude’s father is largely absent. His mother, a striptease dancer, is busy. Jude’s brother is the only ray of sunshine in this book. Jude’s sort of stepfather, Ray, is an abusive man who deserves a slow, fiery death. And it is kind of sad that Ray’s abuse follows Jude from home to school where he is met with yet more horrible, violent jerks who are equal parts fascinated and equal parts repulsed by Jude’s sexuality and his love for high heels and make-up. Jude’s life, whether it is school or home or online, is made up of people who are varying degrees of toxic and this makes it rather easy to understand his choices, his obsessions, his (sometimes alarming) desires.
There are parts of the novel that I struggled with but I came to understand by the end. First, this story is based on a real one and you may as well know that right off the bat. It puts the rest of my concerns in perspective. Second, there were several graphic instances of abuse (verbal, mental, and physical) that were sometimes written with care and sometimes with carelessness. Third, predatory behaviour from adults is sometimes glorified and seen as desirable. I wondered why Reid chose to dwell on these in the manner he did, until I came to the realization that society has already glorified these awful things. We take physical abuse pretty seriously (if, of course, the victim is white and male) but are otherwise flippant about how we use abusive language. Today, more than ever, the line between fame and infamy is more transparent than ever. It makes sense that much of the novel’s writing is so melodramatic about certain things and so blasé about others. Jude’s obsession with fame is not only a way for him to cope with his life but also an end that he sees as very much attainable– one way or another.
I cannot say that this novel is for everyone. For one thing, it may not be very accessible to everyone, given its references to classic and contemporary Hollywood. For another, it is– for the reasons I listed above– difficult to read. No one responds to the same book (no matter how important it may be) in the same way. Some may read this with acceptance. Some may find it harsh and dehumanizing. I cannot say what type of situation would prompt a librarian or a teacher to give this book to a gay teen struggling with abuse. (Despite what I see other reviews saying, I am not sure it is that kind of book?) If anything, I feel like Jude’s story speaks more to the violently heteronormative society that perpetually wants to blame the victim instead of looking inward. This is the kind of book I would give educators, parents, librarians, and “allies”. Not to say that others can’t read it. I do think this novel is a unique one and, should you choose, worth spending time on.
So, uh, despite the fact that I hate you for recommending this, I kind of also love you for recommending this one, Steph. Cheers! <3