This book won lots of significant awards when it was released in 2015. It’s definitely one of the most different and memorable reads I’ve read this year. But I also have to give it the title of worst I’ve read this year, and I have no joy giving that title to an author who shares my sexuality or my home country, or who apparently was inspired to write this book because of a horrifying real-life event. Alas, there could’ve been some much better ways to write this work.
The hero of this story is a guy named Jude. There’s a high chance it would be appropriate to label him a transvestite. He’s still fine with he/him pronouns but he loves wearing lipstick and nail polish and hates the limits set around gender. And maybe he didn’t know there were other possible pronouns. This book was published seven years ago and we weren’t as universally aware as we are now. Actually, to him and his only friend Angela, there are no limits out there to identity. He is NOT accepted in his life how he dresses. He is called the f word on a daily basis online and face to face but he never lets it get to him.
He doesn’t have the best life. His dad walked out on his mother and two brothers, his older one Ray kind of a failure and his younger brother Keefer too innocent for his own good. And his mother is an exotic dancer at an unfairly run strip club. Jude wants to run away to Hollywood someday soon. Would he be a performer there? Well, he stole the Glinda costume after he instead got the part of the Scarecrow. That’s a big maybe. He also has a super crush on a Luke Morris, the only one in this posse of bullies who came back to make sure he was okay after he was jumped. Could there be something there?
That synopsis makes the book sound fine, you know? Makes you wonder how I could possibly give a grade this low to something like this. Well, a few years back my friend gave me one of her favourite books, Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I tried to enjoy it but could only give it one star. You can click the link above to read my Goodreads review. It’s a classic book about two wasted nobodies giving the finger to what they were assigned to report on in Vegas and just try to make it big, whether that means getting so high they kick the bucket or so rich they can stay high and jobless the rest of their lives. I am more than fine reading about the grittiness of the world, but when there’s no actual storyline, nothing to truly root for, that’s the deal breaker. The book accomplished making us feel like we were in these characters’ minds with the hazy and horny writing style, but that was far from a recommendation. When Everything Feels Like The Movies is like the teen version of Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, but with the raunch doubled and even more incredulity with the characters and their actions.
I’ve owned this book for years and finally got around to it the other day, and I zipped through it because it’s a very small read. And at first I was thinking, “Okay, this is a very raunchy book but at least Jude’s proud of himself, and these people who drink and smoke and snort their health away while still teens? They exist.” Jude being completely unfazed by the bullying is admittedly a good theme in this book. But we then realize as the chapters go on that this main character has not only a severe misconception about the way society works, but on top of that, an abnormally gargantuan amount of unhealthy fetishes. Barely a page goes by where we aren’t given front row seats to what he thinks about when he jerks off, how he imagines being able to lick someone’s butt, how he imagines how hot it would be to get in bed with boys who have been nothing but cruel to him since Day One. The vulgar factor is up so high, that even if someone was living the same drug-infested lifestyle as Jude, I still can’t imagine anyone realistically having these thoughts all the time. Especially since when you’re a boy and you ejaculate, you’re supposed to lose your sexual desire for a bit as your body calms itself down. Aka, no boy is able to be horny all the time, but it seems Jude sure is.
And then there are story problems, from the small (why didn’t he just flush that toilet?) to the big (he dismisses a fight between his mother and her boyfriend that he inadvertently caused with no remorse whatsoever, and he’s never let anyone get to him but then out of nowhere it’s now really bad?). But the book doesn’t seem to care about any of that.
There’s also signs of pedophilia and incest that end up either disregarded or embraced, and I can only hope that this is not the first book on queer youth anyone has ever read. This whole thing gives the queer community a really bad name. I won’t spoil how the ending goes, but let’s just say I began to not exactly hate Jude, but find him completely hopeless. The things he ends up doing even after all that happen to him make me wish he got some mandatory institutional psych counselling.
If you enjoy this book, then great. There’s a market out there for this kind of gritty noir fiction. Even if the plot practically goes nowhere, it’s not technically a boring read. But even in a raunchy story, I still need to feel some character connection, some realism in order to get invested. But hey! I was given this book as a present when I was just becoming an adult, the ones giving it to me having no idea of the contents. I’ll probably look back on what it would’ve been like if I picked the book up then, and laugh for years to come of my presumed confusion and shock.
If you like this, I’d try Mars Heyward’s free webcomic Long Exposure, a gritty LGBTQ+ graphic novel that also has some raunch and drugs but has a much better story, a lot less vulgar humor, a much sweeter romance, and a lot more layers to flawed characters.