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.