When Everything Feels Like the Movies & Other People Don’t Like It: YA Literature & Censorship

When we discussed the awards given to When Everything Feels Like the Movies, as well as the petition attempting to have the book removed from the Canada Reads list in class, I was intrigued to say the least. After finishing the book, I was mortified (both by the tragic ending and the sad statement the book made about society), but honestly not shocked to discover that this text was based on the true story of an openly gay 15-year-old California boy who was murdered in 2008 by a fellow student he’d asked to be his Valentine.

In my opinion, the people trying to censor this book are missing what this book is about. Despite the book containing explicit language, sex, self-mutilation, & death – this book is really not about any of those things. Emily M. Keeler says it best in her article in the National Post

“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.”

Censoring young adults from books like When Everything Feels Like the Movies, is really censoring young adults from reading books about the real world.

While people complained that Raziel Reid could have written the book in “a more appropriate way, with less vulgar language”, I disagree. This book was about the everyday life of Jude, and whether adults want to admit it or not, for some young adults, their everyday looks a lot like Jude’s. Raziel Reid responded to comments about censorship and the appropriateness of his novel with the following statement:

“I’m not promoting a culture, I’m depicting one – and I’m doing it with the graphic language that culture uses, and with the themes that culture is consumed with: fame, drugs, sex, and selfies.”

In Keeler’s article, she discusses the author Kathy Clark, who writes children’s books about real historical events and also signed the petition against Raziel Reid’s novel being on Canada Reads list; suggesting that Clark’s purpose parallels Reid’s. What is so different about talking to youth about the horrible events of the holocaust and the horrible events of bullying an individual to the point of killing him? What is so different about the discrimination homosexuals suffer through, in comparison to anti-Semitism? The difference is 6 million Jews died in the holocaust, and there is nothing we can do to change that. Which in my opinion only increases the need for books like When Everything Feels Like the Movies to be written, to bring awareness to the discrimination occurring in our society, and stop it before it is comparable with the holocaust. Realistically the issue of discrimination due to sexuality is one we are not only dealing with currently, but also one our children will be faced with in the near future, they should probably be aware of the problem… no?

I would love to know you opinion on the “graphic” nature of When Everything Feels Like the Movies. Do you think Raziel Reid took it to far for a young adult text? Or do you feel the text was an accurate portrayal of society and youth culture today?

– Miranda MacKenzie

Keeler, M. Kelly “On Raziel Reid, and when everything feels like controversy.” Rev. of When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid. National Post 27 01 2015. Online.

Reid, Raziel. When Everything Feels Like The Movies. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014. Print.

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5 thoughts on “When Everything Feels Like the Movies & Other People Don’t Like It: YA Literature & Censorship

  1. Great post!
    I agree that censoring this book would take away from its authenticity.
    To answer your final question, I think that, yes and no, this is an accurate depiction of society today.
    I say yes because I think youth are going through a lot more than we give them credit for and although, initially, I found this book unrealistically crude, I thought back to my own time in middle school and realized that “get date raped” and other such crude exclamations are definitely something I would hear yelled across the lunch room and, supposedly, things are only getting “worse” in this department.
    I also say no because this isn’t what life is like for a lot of youth. I, for one, never had much of an interest in drugs, sex and alcohol as a youth just because that’s how I was and most of my friends shared similar sentiments and no, actually, most of us weren’t religious, we just enjoyed other activities.
    The world is different to everybody, so to say that this book is or is not realistic is a bit of an over-generalization. For many, this book is reality, which is why books like this are important. But many youth would feel uncomfortable reading this book or just not be able to relate to it, so it’s also important that we don’t shove it down their throats.
    Again, it comes down to a reader’s personal choice. I don’t think it’s anybody’s job but the reader’s to decide what to read and, especially with YA, I think we can trust them to do so responsibly.

    -Christiane

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  2. Miranda MacKenzie says:

    Christiane,

    Thanks for your comment! While I didn’t touch on it too much in my blog – I agree about your comment that every young adults reality being different, resulting in every young adult wanting/feeling comfortable reading different literature!

    That being said – I think Raziel Reid really broke down a lot of walls by writing this book, and I hope other authors continue to take different takes on this story, creating a wide-range of literature that deals with ideas of homosexuality & the LGBTQ community!

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  3. Marissa says:

    When I was in High School I took a Creative Writing Course and for one of our assignments we had to go out into the school and write down a random conversation we overheard and then write a short story on it. My teacher said that it had to be exactly what we heard, no censoring. That meant if the conversation had bad language, or bad references it had to be written down. His point was to get us to realize how to make our characters in our books realistic and accurate depictions of people in society. I think this is a mentality that everyone should have. Whether it is vulgar or inappropriate those things still exist and are happening.
    The idea of censoring just takes away realism and aspects that everybody, and the average day young adult/teenager can relate to.
    Great post!

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  4. Kae says:

    I will preface my comments by saying that I have not read the novel, though I would like to when this semester is over. However, I think this novel is perhaps more representative than people realise.

    I grew up with a wonderful friend who was disowned by her family (to the point of kicking her out of their house – physically) when she came out to them. My other friend has been physically assaulted outside of a club in Calgary for holding hands with her girlfriend. And finally, my cousin was born ‘male’ but has always associated with the female gender. She is now (as a very young adult – 18) going through the long process of gender re-assignment and let me tell you, the abuse she faces is astonishing. It may not be everyone’s reality but it is more important to give a voice to those people who live under circumstances that we may not all understand, than it is to censor the experiences of the masses.

    (My apologies if that came across as quite forceful, I just have a very strong sense that protecting youth from the opinions and experiences of others is both unnecessary and possibly more harmful)

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  5. Personally, I think that this novel is an accurate portrayal of reality for many kids these days. However, like others have mentioned, it is not the reality for all kids. I think the harsh and vulgar language is necessary for this novel, as it truly depicts how awful the situation is. It allows us to appreciate exactly what kids struggling with their sexuality must go through. My worry, however, is that the vulgarity may alienate a lot of readers who should understand the broader issue. Some kids may not be able to relate, and other groups of people may just be profoundly offended and discredit the value of the book altogether. This text has a message that is important for all of society, but it likely will only appeal to those who are already comfortable with the issue, and interested in rights for the LGBTQ community. People who do not fully appreciate or understand the issue will likely be alienated by the harsh language, and ignore the important message this text has to offer. So I think it’s a difficult topic. You don’t want to undermine the harsh reality that some kids face by depicting it in a friendlier way, and yet, the vulgar language may prevent the message from spreading to a wider audience. With that being said, it is absolutely an important text, and I agree with your blog post in many ways!
    – Julie Buoy

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