Review | When Everything Feels like the Movies, Raziel Reid

24043806When Everything Feels like the Movies is an unbelievably raw, powerful book. Reading this book is a visceral experience, and I almost didn’t write this review because there is no way I can express the power of Raziel Reid’s writing. He plunges us deep into the mind and heart of his narrator Jude, and creates such a rich, textured voice for his character that Jude will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

Jude is a hilarious narrator whose humour belies the depth of his experiences and pain. A young teen bullied for being gay, Jude copes by imagining himself a movie star. Boys chase him and call him Judy because they are rabid fans. Graffiti about him on bathroom doors are notes from secret admirers. Classmates stare at his outfits and made-up face because the school hallways are actually red carpet premieres and he’s the star. It’s a comforting fiction that crumbles with the first punch, even as he desperately attempts to cling to it. In a particularly heart-wrenching moment, he scrambles to his feet and races away from a group of bullies, describing all the while how he is really acting out a lush, beautiful scene from a movie.

The reason this book is so powerful is the language. Take this passage about bathroom graffiti for example:

They made portraits of me, too. They were my graffiti tabloids. I was totally famous. I’d imagine that the drawing in the handicap stall of my alleged crotch with “Hermafrodite Jude/Judy” scribbled next to it was the cover of the National Enquirer. Misspelled headline included. I was addicted to them. I’d look all over the bathroom and on all the walls in the hallway, and if there wasn’t one waiting for me on my locker for Jim to paint over at the end of the day, I was crushed. I wanted them to hate me; hate was as close to love as I thought I’d ever be. [p. 18]

Passages like that just blow me away. I mean, wow. The studied casualness of stating a desire for this graffiti, contrasted with the subtle dig at the spelling error, and then wrapped up at the end with an almost off-hand remark. Reid manages to pack more sincerity in that final sentence than in the rest of the paragraph, yet the emotion in that last line can be felt throughout, even as Jude pretends otherwise. Bravo, Raziel Reid, is all I can say.

Then Jude falls in love, with a popular boy who happens to be straight. If you know the author’s inspiration for this story, then you already know how that turns out. If you don’t, then I urge you to avoid spoilers at all costs. The ending seemed sudden to me and I thought it came out of nowhere. But I can imagine that’s how it would have seemed in real life as well, especially as Reid keeps us firmly locked within Jude’s perspective.

The controversy around the content of this book has brought it to the attention of many more readers, but it has also almost eclipsed discussion about the book itself, which I think is a shame. Read it to take a stand against censorship, if you like, but also read it just because it’s a very, very good book. Jude is a star, and his story will pull you right in and never let you go.

Wab Kinew to Host Canada Reads 2015

Great news, Canadian booklovers – CBC just announced Wab Kinew as the host of Canada Reads 2015!

Wab Kinew. Photo courtesy of the CBC.

Wab Kinew. Photo courtesy of the CBC.

If you followed 2014’s Canada Reads debates, you’ll remember Kinew as the passionate defender of Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda. This year’s contenders had some pretty big shoes to fill — Canada was looking for “the one novel to change a nation.” The Orenda won, partly because it’s a really good book about important subject matter, but also partly because of Kinew’s eloquence and obvious love for the novel.

In a CBC press release, Kinew enthuses that he “can’t wait to host the debates.” He says, “Canada Reads is an amazing show to be a part of because it is both a chance to celebrate Canadian literature, and also to have some really important conversations which concern us all.” The theme for Canada Reads 2015 will certainly spark some important conversations: “one book to break barriers.” Panelists will debate books that change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues. 

Personally, I’m most interested in how panelists and readers will interpret the concept of “breaking barriers.” What barriers will be privileged and deemed “significant” enough to debate? What books will be accepted as representative of whatever community is breaking these barriers? Thematically, yes, this will be a good platform to discuss diversity in Canadian literature, but I’d also be curious to see books that break stylistic barriers. A memoir written in poetry form, or a novel like S. by J.J. Abrams where handwritten notes, maps and graphic elements are incorporated into the traditional novel. Or (I hope) a book I’ve never even heard of, where the format somehow renders it more accessible for readers with some form of disability, for whom it is difficult to find books to read.

The theme is a tall order for any book. If there was a theme to push the boundaries of creative freedom in literature, this is it, and part of me wishes that with this theme, Canada Reads opened itself up to poetry, drama and other forms of literature. Imagine a work by artist and poet Christian Bök being included in the debates!

That being said, I’m still excited about the Canada Reads 2015 debates. Wab Kinew is a fantastic choice by the CBC, and the theme should raise awareness of some really important issues that literature is at least attempting to address.

Do you have a book in mind? Readers can submit their suggestions at CBCbooks.ca or tweet their suggestions to @CBCbooks with the hashtag #CanadaReads until Sunday, November 30. The Canada Reads panelists and their chosen books will be announced on January 20, 2015 and the debates will be held from March 1619, 2015.

Click here for more information, and follow @WabKinew and @CBCbooks on Twitter.