‘When Everything Feels Like the Movies’ (A Review)

RazReid

Review by Curtis Cole

The funny thing about living in a capitalist society is that narrative runs your life, whether you recognize it or not. Jude, the young protagonist of Raziel Reid’s first book When Everything Feels Like the Movies, does understand this principal and so utilizes it as a coping mechanism, as a tool for him to help him deal with the homophobia present all around him. Jude is a movie star…! Or is in his mind, at least; he is correct, however, for he is the star of his own life: Jude, the Movie! We are all stars of our own lives and so it is the same with Jude: homophobic graffiti on your locker? Looks like the tabloids are running wild with speculation again; the betrayal of a former friend? What a plot twist! Bullies? You mean rapid fans. You get the idea—Jude’s life is one lived in a self-imposed fantasy because that is what he needs to embrace in order to cope on a day-to-day basis.

In the fashion of many teen novels, the plot of Movies is simple: Jude struggles through school while trying to find himself and hopefully, a romantic partner. Navigating a horde of hostile cis-gender, heterosexual teenagers when you are the only (out) gay, cross-dressing teen in the school, obviously, produces some tough results, and so it is unsurprising that Jude’s only friend is a dog and the school “slut,” Angela. Jude understands loneliness and what it feels like to get the emotional and physical daylights beaten out of you. Coming from a broken home, with an alcoholic father-in-law, absent biological father, and caring yet desperate mother, Jude does not exactly have a loving support system in place to help him through the rigors of adolescence. So he invents one, and being a (stereo)typical teen who loves celebrities, gossip, and the grandeur of stardom emanating from Hollywood, he, of course, places himself within the confines of what he loves and imagines himself as a yet-discovered star struggling through their low-key discovery phase. Other than the gay-bashing at the beginning of the book, details about Jude’s life, and the search for a long-term romantic partner while he saves up money to flee to Hollywood, there is not much to the plot other than the anticipation of discovering what next will happen to poor Jude.

In this sense, Movies sometimes feels like a cross between a drama, a snuff film, and a teen comedy, but this is the point: the ‘difficult’ subject matter, the frank discussion of sexuality, the bullying and violence, the delusion… all of this is a statement on narrative: on the romantic narrative differences which exist between gay and straight youth (of the double standard in courting and dating), on the narrative differences between bullied and non-bullied youth, how the latter do not need elaborate mythologies to keep themselves together, as well as the narrative of the media itself, how the oppressed are portrayed as the oppressor because they do not fit into the hetero-patriarchal norm. Jude’s cinematic delusion of starring in a movie, is an outgrowth of such a statement on narrative and so his manner of coping becomes a framing device capable of revealing the stark truth of narrative and the way it unclothes societal prejudices and class antagonisms. This is why Reid’s novel has garnered so much attention, both positive and negative, from the literary and cultural world—because it challenges conservative notions on sociality and youth culture; after Reid won the Governor General’s Literary Award, a prestigious Canadian prize, reactionary vultures came from all quarters to try and discredit Reid’s novel because it so threatened their own narrative delusion, that is, on society being ‘threatened’ by the outside perverse, the ‘radical’ youth and sexual minorities; what Reid has managed to do in a short period of time is to re-orient the debate on children’s literature to the vulnerable and disadvantaged, essentially returning a voice to the oppressed. So, of course the ruling elite, those counterrevolutionaries with a vested interest in maintaining the heteronormative status-quo, have attempted to smear Reid’s writing as ‘pornographic,’ ‘licentious,’ and ‘vulgar.’ To them, a world where the cis-hetero yells ‘faggot’ at the slightly effeminate kid is the norm and accords to a supposed human nature: Reid understands that this is not natural and accords to social processes where people, especially youth, are molded in accordance with the social-materiality of their surroundings, culture, media, and upbringing. There is nothing ‘natural’ about hatred.

Reid firmly stands with the silenced. Any friends who do likewise should purchase this book, should read and talk about this book, and share it with teens and Queer youth; the debate ignited around this text should not be forgotten but embraced and the fires flamed. Movies is a tour de force of humor, wit, and writing. With a film adaptation in the works, it seems likely that Reid’s project will continue to live and continue to harass the small-minded. I, and those who wish to see a better, more equalitarian world, should carry Reid’s banner and never let it go. Five out of five stars.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies

Raziel Reid

176 pages. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press. $9.99 (Kindle), $1.83 (Paperback), $19.15 (Hardcover), $12.24 (Audible audiobook)[1].

Age level: 12-18, Grade 6 and up[2].

 

[1] Page estimates and prices taken from Amazon.com and were accurate at the time of writing.

[2] Recommended age range and reading level provided by Amazon.com.

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