When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid is shockingly crude. I am by no means against sexuality being explored in literature for teens, and I especially think this can be important for gay teens who may not see their personal preferences reflected in their community. However, there is a difference between nice romantic coming of age stories, descriptions of attraction, awkward, disappointing or wonderful first experiences being described, and the trashy, disturbing writing found here. Characters who are only in middle school are carelessly having unprotected sex with many partners in this book and the author seems to (through the attitudes of all the characters and lack of consequences to them) brush off having multiple abortions and catching STDs as no big deal at all. The characters joke about all the dead fetuses in a way that made me feel sick reading it.
The protagonist is insufferable. It’s one thing to be flamboyant- but there’s a difference between being outgoing and comfortable being different, and being an obnoxious disruptive student. He tries to pick fights, which makes it hard to sympathize as much about the bullying that I would otherwise really feel sorry for him about. His obsession with makeup and shoes is painfully shallow- and I’d feel this way if he was a girl, I don’t have an issue with men choosing to wear what is traditionally worn by females.
What really bothers me about him though is his masochistic sexual pleasure he feels when insulted, harassed or threatened. It deeply disturbs me that his reckless behavior and crass speech is seen in flashbacks when he is inappropriately young. That he is said to talk about things like Lindsay Lohan doing lines of cocaine when he’s in Gr. 2, and performing sexual acts with a friend long before puberty is upsetting. I found myself extremely uncomfortable with a lot of the situations in the book, and I think a lot of parents will have issues with their teens reading this. Normalizing extreme promiscuity before high school is not something I like to see in youth literature. I can’t stand the way he is attracted to literally every guy and constantly flirts with or hits on everyone. Just to clarify this is not because he is gay that I feel this way. If he had a crush on one guy that would be entirely different. That he is so all over the place and pushy with guys who discourage him makes me dislike him in the same way I would dislike a character who was a player hitting on all the girls and not taking no for an answer. His combination of pushiness and low standards is extremely off-putting.
He goes out of his way to make people feel uncomfortable and even puts the guy he likes the most in embarrassing situations. His best friend is equally disturbing. She is bereft of morals, having sex at a very young age with older men who are in relationships and doesn’t mind at all that she’s breaking people up. She doesn’t show an ounce of self-respect and jokes about her drug use and bulimia. What bothers me even more is that her friends don’t show any concern for her unhealthy behaviour and I’m not even sure the author views it as unhealthy. If he does, this is not reflected in a way teens will pick up on.
I am always looking for good books with gay characters that I can recommend but this is definitely not one of them. Instead of positive role models who show that sexual preference is not such a big deal this book provides a sideshow freak of a character who I think will alienate readers. A caricature of a stereotype like this one is probably offensive to homosexual readers and will not instill empathy in straight ones.
The ending is shocking, as intended. It makes me sad that these things happen but I don’t think the big feelings at the end of the novel make up for the rest of it. In fact even the ending is handled with such odd melodrama that it’s difficult to connect with.
I did not think the writing quality was worthy of awards, and wonder if the hype about it is because it stirs up controversy. I think it’s a shame because books like this make it harder to defend the controversial ones that actually have more substance, style, or positive gay role-models. I’m baffled by so much high praise for this novel, I feel like straight people are afraid that saying anything bad about it wouldn’t be politically correct. I can’t bring myself to promote such sensationalism.