When 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.
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.