This year the theme of Canada Reads is “What is the one book to break barriers?” Some of our writers decided to join in and defend some of the short listed titles.

When Everything Feels Like the When Everything Feels Like the Movies, Raziel Ried, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014Movies

Raziel Ried
Arsenal Pulp Press

Raziel Ried’s bold and brilliant début novel, When Everything Feels Like the Movies, invites you to see the world through the eyes of Jude Rothesay. Jude is a bright light in an otherwise dull town. Or as Jude describes it “it had everything you needed if you didn’t need anything at all.”

To say Jude stands out at his high school would be an understatement. To call him flamboyant would even be a bit of an understatement. Jude is a disco ball of light and energy. He is special and unique. And in a small town high school (or in any high school really) that makes him an outcast. He also has a very public crush on one of the (straight) school jocks, Luke Morris–which makes him a pariah. Other students spend their time calling him names like “It” or try to make #WhyJudeShouldDie trend on Twitter.

Things aren’t any better at home for Jude. His father is basically out of the picture. He only stops by every now and again to take Jude for breakfast. His mother is a stripper. It’s clear that she loves Jude and his brother but she works nights, sleeps during the day, and has horrible taste in men. Her current live-in boyfriend, Ray, has anger issues, disappears from time to time and wants Jude as far away from his son as possible.

But Jude has a way of coping with all the garbage life throws his way. He see’s the world differently then the average Joes around him. To Jude, life is nothing more than a movie set. He knows he’s not a Movie Star–popular people like Luke Morris are the Movie Stars. He’s the kind of Star people love to watch because they know drama and chaos follow wherever he goes. The people who bully him are nothing more than paparazzi, obsessed with what he’ll do next. At times his life may look like a train wreck, but as he tells his best friend Angela, “train wrecks always make the front page.”

Raziel Ried has a distinct voice that has the ability to be both beautiful and unsettling at the same time. His writing is poetry with sharp edges. Certain passages feel as though they’re thrusting themselves off the page at you, demanding your attention. The first time I sat down to read this book I wasn’t prepared for it and ended up underlining some of my favourite lines with the only thing I had handy–my eyeliner (a move a think Jude would whole heartedly approve of).

And he doesn’t hold back on the subject matter. Jude and his friend Angela drink, they take drugs, they go to parties. The other kids at school don’t just call him names, they’re often physically violent. I think elements of this book will make many readers uncomfortable–as evidenced by the call to have his Governor General’s award revoked. When Everything Feels Like the Movies is technically considered a young adult novel, so it won the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature. Some people believe the subject matter is too ‘vulgar’ for teens and therefore it shouldn’t be eligible for the award.

But that subject matter is exactly why this book is so important and why I consider it a book that can break barriers. Jude may be one of a kind at his high school but he is not unique among teens as a whole. There are kids like Jude all over. Not just LGBTQ teens (though especially them in the wake of cases like Matthew Shepherd, Sergio Urrego, Leelah Alcorn, Jamie Hubley and so many more). Any teen who just want to be themselves. To express themselves on the outside the way they feel inside. And just like Jude, many of those kids are met with extreme bullying in response. The fact that Raziel Ried was able to base this off a true story (that of Larry Fobes King in 2008) breaks my heart. Nobody should ever have to go through what Jude (or Larry) went through. When Everything Feels Like the Movies shows us what happens when we refuse to accept other people for who they are and when we allow fear and bigotry to take over. It’s important for us to witness what happens to Jude so we can reach out to one another and do better and prevent future tragedies going forward.