Angela’s Acid: The Other Controversy in When Everything Feels Like the Movies

WhenEverythingFeelsWhen Everything Feels Like the Movies has pretty much entered the YA canon, in Canada at least. People read it and either wish it had been around when they were a teen, or want to get it into the hands of today’s teens. Yes, there are those other people who wish it to be banned and stripped of its Governor General’s Award, but I’m not here to talk about them or explain why this book shouldn’t be banned. Others have done so very eloquently, notably Lainey Lui* on this year’s Canada Reads.

Before I even read the book, I noticed something odd about the controversy. No one was saying “ban this book because the main character is gay” or even “ban this book because of explicit gay sex,” exactly. There were lots of “graphic” this and “sexualized” that, but it was all very vague.

Then I read the book and I met Angela. Jude’s sidekick/thwarted crush/betrayer, it was Angela who pulled me into the story because it so closely resembled my own. I don’t mean that literally, though I did buy acid from a guy in a photo booth once. But between me and my friends, we did all this stuff: we stole our parents’ prescriptions, smoked pot, did mushrooms, dropped acid, drank, smoked; had sex with people we didn’t love (and some that we did;) made lists of our conquests; used abortions as birth control. Some girls were open about abortions, some tried to hide them. You could usually tell by looking for a bruise on the top of the hand; that’s where the IV goes in.

(Aside: What are you using an abortion for, if not birth control? This phrase as a pejorative really pisses me off.)

Do I sound blasé? Does Angela? I have the distance of years but Angela’s in the thick of it. Why isn’t she more sad, more ashamed, like a victim should be? Noted well-digger and Canada Reads contestant Craig Kielburger can barely contain his sputtering outage when he asks Lainey to read this passage:

“How’d it go this time?” I asked her.

“I asked the doctor if he could suck out some fat when he took the fetus, and he looked at me like I was masturbating with a crucifix.”

It’s telling that much of the defense of WEFLTM is that it shines a light on important issues like homophobia and bullying, but Craig directs our attention to a passage about a heterosexual girl’s abortion. No homosexuality or bullying here. So what’s controversial? That she doesn’t feel shame? That she makes a joke? How shallow a reader must you be to take Angela a face value. Did Craig consider that perhaps a 14 year old doesn’t have the language to express her feelings about having an abortion and makes a joke instead?

If you’re outraged by this excerpt, it’s because you don’t think Angela is suffering enough, and that’s kind of fucked up.

In addition to not being sad/contrite/ashamed enough, Angela also has no excuse. We can accept Jude’s substance abuse and fantasy life because his real life is terrible – a violent, unstable home; bullying at school; and a toxic best friend. In Angela, we are confronted with a outwardly normal, privileged teenage girl making poor choices and we demand to know why. Is it abuse? Mental illness? The parents’ fault?

How about: drinking, drugs, and sex are fun? (You know, until they’re not.) I grew up in a stable home with great parents and many advantages, and I’m not just saying that because my mom reads the blog now (HI MOM) but because it’s very rare to see a character like Angela, who is fucked up and *not* made sympathetic with a hard knock back story, or put on “a journey” to overcome some big struggle. Sometimes there is no reason why. That’s real life. That was my life.

Me, 16ish, pissed off about something.

Me, 16ish, pissed off about something.

WEFLTM could be a lifesaver for LGBTQ teens. It could also be important to all the Angelas out there. Is the need as dire? Nope. Contrary to what Jude thinks, many Angelas grow up to be boring suburban moms who cut loose by having a second glass of wine on a Saturday night. But that ubiquitous bookish quote, “we read to know that we are not alone,”applies to us, too. When Angela slapped Jude across the face after he called he a “come dumpter” (oh, the profanity!) I cheered. I wish I’d had Angela when I was 15, and I hope many teenagers and adults of all genders and sexuality read this book.

*I still really, really need to know what lipstick Lainey was wearing on Canada Reads. The perfect red. It haunts me.

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11 comments

  1. ebookclassics

    Hi Laura’s Mom! I’m so happy you finally had the chance to write this post. I know you’ve been stewing some thoughts for awhile. I never thought of some of the points you made about Angela, but can see it clearly now that you have put it into words. I also didn’t clue in to the abortion part being a source of controversy for all the haters of the book. I also hope lots of people read this books (I saw my friend had a copy of it today). I also agree it’s just life and that particular time of life is very very messy.

    • lauratfrey

      Yes, it’s messy. Exactly. I would love to read a review from someone in this age group. To me, this was one of the most realistic “teen” books I’ve ever read, but it’s been 20 years since I was Angela’s age, so I could be remembering incorrectly!

      • ebookclassics

        I would be interested in seeing a review by someone in this age group as well (maybe I’ll poke around the world wide web). I also felt like the book was very realistic. The teenage years are so toxic and screwed up. I remember my friends and I having a very ambiguous moral code.

  2. Naomi

    I like the angle you took with your review!
    Here’s a question for all the people who don’t want to read about Angela’s abortions: would they rather her have the babies?
    Angela’s behavior frightens me because I worry for my own children. I know that there is not always an excuse, and that is what makes it even more frightening. So, I am looking for one. I want to think that she’s messed up because it makes me feel better. I also find it frightening, because some of the things she does are going to leave scars (which I know from personal experience, although not my own). And, it’s for the very fact that I don’t take Angela at face value that I want to know more about her. I would like to get inside her head. Raziel did a good job of putting us inside Jude’s head and making us feel compassion. Maybe he should do the same with Angela and a couple of the other secondary characters.
    I have been wondering, too, if one of the reasons people are using Angela as a reason to rail against the book is because these people don’t want to publicly rail against Jude and his lifestyle. Using Angela’s behavior (especially her abortions) could be an easy way out?.
    I like Lainey’s point that this is how children think and speak now, and if we want to understand them better, we need to be able to get inside their heads (whether we like it or not). For this reason, I think this is a good book for parents.
    One thing I think Craig might have had right is that a lot of the people who *should* be reading this book probably won’t, because they don’t want to hear what it has to say.

    • lauratfrey

      Yeah, I was thinking about you as I wrote this, and how it was not going to make you feel better about your 13 year old. Will it make you feel better that I turned out just fine, in large part because I had support from my parents? I was just talking to my mom about that; how some of the stuff me and my siblings did as teens would have meant getting kicked out of the house and basically shunned in other families; we saw it, many times. And the outcomes for those kids who got thrown out were not good. Not to say you shouldn’t have boundaries and consequences, but my parents never gave up on us… we were never scared about being kicked out… some would say they were too permissive, but that security, I think, was a good thing. I won’t pretend to know how to parent a teen, I’m still 10 years off. Well, 8 years. Good lord!!

      I TOTALLY think people criticize Angela’s story to avoid the “well I’m not a homophobe, BUT” kind of statement. Totally. I didn’t want to get into that too much here, because I’ve seen some comments in the media that kind of pit misogyny against homophobia, like, who’s more oppressed, and I don’t thing they’re comparable and I won’t do that. But there is something to what you said. And it’s all the patriarchy’s fault anyway 🙂

      Yeah, Craig wasn’t totally wrong. I just didn’t like his smug face haha.

      • Naomi

        I have no idea what I’m doing either. Mostly, I’m counting on their shy genes to keep them out of trouble. Ha! But, I think you’re right about not being too strict – there will be no kicking out of the house around here. I had great parents, too, and they successfully brought up all 6 of us; one of us got pregnant and had a baby at the age of 17, and one of us had ADHD and got himself into a hell of a lot of trouble over the years (I learned some of my biggest life lessons from him and the reactions people had toward him, but that’s a whole other story). Those two made the rest of us look pretty good. Somehow we made it through, and we are all fine now. 🙂
        I was thinking about it some more (’cause I have nothing else to do); about the fact that Angela didn’t seem to have any friends – just Jude. And, I think it was this that struck me as sad. She wasn’t doing these things with a bunch of friends, like you were. It’s not even very clear how much Angela and Jude cared about each other (what do you think?) – just that neither of them seemed to have any one else to hang out with. If she had had some friends to share things with and lean on (sounds corny, I know), I might not have been so worried about her. Also, how did her mother not notice that her prescription pills were missing?? I’m telling you right now that I will be monitoring those very closely from now on!

  3. writereads

    This whole Angela-centric post is totally spot on. It actually makes me think of How Poetry Saved My Life, in that Amber Dawn talks about how people always want sex workers to have a reason for getting into their particular line of work – a dark past, an abusive uncle, something.
    As you say, drinking, sex and drugs are part of the landscape and pretty much always have been. Not every teenager takes part in them, but every teenager is exposed to them to some degree. And not every teenager who does take part in them has some dark reason for it. Drugs, sex and rocknroll are just part of exploring new things, scary things, independent things.
    And hey, I think I turned out okay, too. I think it was due in large part to my parents keeping an open dialogue ready for both me and my friends. They were pretty cool that way.
    I’m now such a law-abider that I can’t even j-walk. My teenage self would be pretty sad about that. -Tania

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