When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 176 pages.
Read from February 19 to 20, 2015.

This is now the second book I’ve been able to get through in this year’s Canada Reads 2015 shortlist. This book was not what I was expecting and based on the controversy surrounding the novel, it sounds like it wasn’t what a lot of people were expecting, especially for a Governor General’s award in Children’s Literature. The author, Raziel Reid, is one of the youngest recipients of the award at the age of 24.

Jude is a teenage boy who happens to like other boys, he also prefers to wear dresses, massive heels and outrageous make-up. In his head, he pretends he is a famous celebrity. In fact, he pictures his whole life like it’s some kind a movie. His every action is just another scene while his stripper mother, promiscuous best-friend, and the boys, including his crush, Luke, who bully him are his co-stars. Even in the darkest parts of this book he masks his pain with glamour. Jude has an over-the-top personality that covers up his noxious up bringing and daily life which, make the tragic ending that much more unbearable. Jude just wants to be loved and when he asks his crush to be his valentine, there are horrible and unnecessary consequences.

Sadly, I can see people who would struggle with just Jude’s character alone, which, in this day and age shouldn’t be an issue. However, the real controversy isn’t so much that Jude is a gender bender, it’s the graphic language, sexual references and sex scenes. To be fair, the content is very crude at times but it fits with the novel and with characters.  Barbara Kay, of the National Post was particularly outraged with the book’s content and wanted it to have its Governor General’s award stripped, claiming that the award “wasted tax dollars on a values-void novel“. For a book that’s labeled as a young adult, I suppose I can see why people might get a bit heated about it but I don’t think the sexual content is abnormal and shouldn’t be treated as if it is.  Jude lives a tragic life, but sadly it is the norm for many homosexual teenagers and it’s a demographic that needs attention. So it shouldn’t be wrong to write about something that’s true, regardless of how awful it can be. If you don’t believe that a story like this could have any truth, than read Emily M. Keeler’s article,  which is a counter piece to Barbara Kay’s. It discusses how the plot of this novel mirrors the tragic and real life murder of a Larry Fobes King, a young gay teen who was killed in 2008 after asking his crush if he wanted to be his valentine. The author, Raziel, was obviously aware of this horrible and tragic event and was inspired to write a story that reflected what it may have been life living as Larry before he died.

“It’s sickening to me that the moral panic surrounding the book regards teens reading about blow jobs and not its painfully, stylishly wrought portrayal of kids being bullied to death, or growing up with fear because it’s not safe for them to be who they are.” – Emily M. Keeler

I also think that the author, Raziel Reid, purposely made the content graphic for that extra shock factor. This book is supposed to be outrageous and the sexual content helped deliver that. Additionally, I think the author was also making a point that gay sex is something that everyone needs to be more comfortable with. Just as we don’t shutter with all the very graphic and straight media content that teenagers are exposed to, homosexual love needs to be the same. The problem is that a lot of adults don’t want their kids reading content like this, even if their kids are already thinking it or doing it, parents still don’t want their kids exposed to anything that might encourage it. Especially homosexual content or anything that they might perceive as out of the ordinary. Personally, I believe that more novels need to describe the homosexual or gender bender experience so that in the future nothing about a character like Jude will ever be questioned, made fun of or undermined. If Barbara was able to get past her own gag-reflexes in terms of the sexual content of this novel, she might have been able to see a young and troubled gay youth dealing with hate the only way he knew how, with love. That there are more values in this novel than she has her whole miserable article. 

Thank you to Raziel Reid for bravely writing this piece and for writer’s like Emily that say it like it is. This piece is worthy of its award and its novels like this that are truly breaking barriers in a still very conservative society. With the two books I’ve read so far for Canada Reads 2015, this one has my vote at the moment.  Barriers smashed.

 

Ru by Kim Thuy

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 160 pages.
Read February 18, 2015.

The is the first book from the Canada Reads 2015 shortlist that I’ve managed to get through so far. Ru is a poetic, beautiful and tragic examination of a young girl’s move from a war-stricken Vietnam to Canada. Partially auto-biographical, the title of the book is symbolic and significant as in Vietnamese, the author’s native language, it means lullaby or to lull, and in French, her adoptive language and the original language that the book was published in, it means small stream or the flow and release of tears, blood or money.

Each page  of the book almost looks like a letter, in that some of them are written in a block format and the paragraphs are indented so that the content is in the middle of the page. This style adds a poetic feel to the novel and each of these sections are a string of memories that fit together to create the novel. In my opinion the style was carried out successfully and added a lot to the feel of the novel. The book does not have a straight forward timeline but you gather the information as it comes. You learn that the young girl was born into a fairly wealthy and intelligent Vietnamese family but it that meant nothing when communism started to spread. The nice home that her family had built was quickly bombarded with communist soldiers and her father made the difficult, but necessary, decision to abandon their home and flee their country for their own safety. Many families shipped their children away during this time if they could not manage to all go themselves and the young narrator reflects on how she never understood how families could separate themselves that way, even if it was for their own safety,  but it wasn’t until she had had children of her own that this made sense to her.  The narrator’s grown perspective on her memories, are what create the most intriguing and dynamic parts of the book.

Once in Canada, the narrator reflects at her families resilience to make a life for themselves, especially her mother. In Vietnam, her mother did not work, yet in Canada, without batting an eye, she picked up work in areas that she had never performed before. Her mother was especially hard on her to get her to interact with this new world, even if that meant moments of embarrassment or shame. Through her mother’s persistence, the shy narrator was able to get through some extremely trying moments as she learned the languages of her new country and eventually, adapted as well as her mother.

There is one moment in the book that really sticks out for me, in which the narrator remembers taking a compliment when she was working  in Vietnam. Someone had told her that she was pretty enough to be the bosses escort, which, she found very flattering at the time. That was until, in another memory recalls looking upon four naked Vietnamese escorts who were having money thrown at them as if they were dogs. It was a powerful moment of transition and realization for the narrator as she made a comparison between the two memories.

What struck me most about this book was the realization of my own privilege and how I will never truly comprehend what life could be like for an immigrant. It puts matters into perspective when you realize the trivial things that you consider real problems. I’ve never had to forcibly leave my home, learn another language and suffer in true poverty.  I can’t imagine how lonely it might feel when the people you are surrounded by in your new country have no real concept of what you left behind, what you’re trying to accomplish now and the many hurdles that you’ll be presented with. As someone born into a place like Canada, I will not likely ever see those hurdles or have to deal with them myself and for that I am grateful. However, there is a blissful ignorance that comes into being born into a place like Canada, in that a person’s world and perspective can be so very small if they do not choose to look outside of it or experience something different. There is a reason that many people who come from suffering or from nothing persist and succeed and while it can be attributed to ambition and motivation, I also think that their unique experiences with suffering and change create a life perspective that cannot be taught.

I believe that Ru is the story of many immigrants, the ones with happier endings anyway. The book really does fit the theme of this years Canada Reads, which is books that break barriers. These are the stories that make Canada what it is and shape the people that live here. Our nation is one of strong and resilient people, many of whom come here looking for something better than what they had. I would recommend this book to any Canadian or for anyone looking for inspiration.

Canada-Reads 2014

Canada Reads 2014

I know, this post has been a long time coming as it took longer than I anticipated to read the book nominations for this year but here we are! My final post on the Canada Reads 2014 series.

Overall, the selections this year were extremely diverse; I appreciated their individuality and the talent displayed by each author. I am going to keep this post short by ranking the books in order of my preference. I must say, ranking these was very difficult! Each will link back to my full reviews on each of the books. So without further ado:

1) Annabel by Kathleen Winter

2) The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

3) The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

4) Cockroach by Rawi Hage

5) Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan