“unrealistic and overly vulgar”, “unnecessary, overly-sexualised”, “so explicit, crude and vulgar”, “entirely inappropriate” – these are just a few of my favourite quotes that I found online referring to the 2015 Raziel Reid novel When Everything Feels Like The Movies. If those kind of reviews don’t make you want to read this brilliant novel, then let me try and convince you some more.
I first read this way back before it’s publication and I loved it, including the shocking ending which – knowing nothing about the true story the book was based on – I was not expecting. I’ve been thinking about this book recently – after reading and totally adoring Jack of Hearts (and other parts) last year – and how sometimes books appear before the time is right for them, and Reid’s novel I think definitely fits into this category.
Just like Jack, Jude (the main character of When Everything Feels Like The Movies) is flamboyant, fabulous, unapologetically queer, lover of sex, and passionate about living his life honestly. The story unfolds in an American junior high school, where Jude sees his life as a movie set, and the people around him as characters in his central drama, bringing to colourful life the drab town he calls home.
The book initially received rave reviews but soon a backlash took place after it was awarded the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature. A petition eventually gaining more than 2000 signatures called it a “values-void novel” and the petition’s instigator said “Jude’s sexual yearnings, masturbating, fantasising…and voyeurism constitute the bulk of the narrative”.
Here is a book that depicts the realistic sexual fantasies (and realities) of teenagers and received a lot of negative criticism because the main character is talking about gay sex. There are two main criticisms that negative reviews of the book has, first is that the sexual activity of the teens is unrealistic, and secondly that it is inappropriate for young people to read about sex.
Firstly: teens are having sex, and this includes gay teens. Get over it. Ignoring sex in fiction is not going to make them stop doing it. Isn’t it better that books offer a realistic representation of safe consensual sex? Just because it’s queer doesn’t make it inherently bad.
Secondly, the negativity from adults in relation to books like this always comes from a complete lack of trust. There is no trust that young people reading books such as When Everything Feels Like The Movies or Jack of Hearts will be able to read these books without acting out the activities in them before they are ready to do so. Just because a character talks openly and honestly about gay sex does not mean every teen reading it is going to do those things. A novel like this, expertly written with a realistic sounding teen voice, is able to educate by presenting a character who does experience life and have normal thoughts the same as those young people reading it.
In 2015 when it was first released, When Everything Feels Like The Movies felt like it was on an island by itself – there wasn’t a whole lot of YA queer literature, and it felt almost too realistic for many people to believe. I would love to see how the book would do now, and would recommend that you give it a read if you haven’t yet done so. There are so few representations of queer life (and sex) in books for young people, that it is still refreshing to see this in a novel. Young people reading books need to see themselves represented, and they need to see all aspects of life portrayed.
The end of When Everything Feels Like The Movies is shocking, and may be too upsetting for many people, but I don’t think that detracts from the book. Rather the opposite, here is a book that shows bullying and violence towards a young queer boy but refuses to place the blame for that on Jude himself. This is vital for young people to realise, that they are not to blame. For me, Jack of Hearts is a natural accompaniment to Raziel Reid’s novel. I would hate for publishing to get stuck in one narrative for LGBTQ YA books (or queer fiction more generally) where we only see happy endings and cute stories. Yes, it’s important we have these stories, but it’s also important we show what reality is for many LGBTQ people. This book won’t appeal to everyone, and it hasn’t been written for everyone, but Simon Vs isn’t suited to everyone’s taste either. There is room on the shelves for a full plethora of queer stories, and When Everything Feels Like The Movies deserves to be there too.
I’d love to know if you’ve read When Everything Feels Like The Movies, and what you thought of it. Leave a comment on this post, or come find me on Twitter to chat.
You can buy all the books mentioned in this post, but if you’re in the UK the physical copy of Jack of Hearts is out in February: