Genres: Young Adult, LGBT+, Coming of Age
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
Publication Date: October 21st 2014
1 OUT OF 5 STARS
“’Sweetheart,’ I said, ‘train wrecks always make the front page.’”
Life is difficult for Jude, his town is just too small to understand him. Jude loves cross-dressing, boys and plans on being a Hollywood starlet. He’s not popular at school, but he certainly gets noticed and not in a good way. From his rough home life with his mother’s abusive boyfriend to being beaten up at school, Jude has a lot on his plate. He’s determined to make it to the end and walk off into the sunset with his heartthrob co-star, Luke.
If you can imagine every stereotype that has been created for gay men and then combine them together, you have Jude. He’s in middle school and rarely thinks about anything other than make-up, stardom and sex. There’s a lot of references to pop-culture, so many that the book already feels a bit dated.
The plot is a tried and trusted formula. It could have spiced things up a bit and been a solid read. The reason this book pans out so poorly is that all the characters are terrible people. The bullies are the predictable jock sort of bullies. They harass Jude and want him to kill himself, very black and white evil. The problem is, Jude isn’t exactly good either. It’s not even that he’s realistically flawed, he’s just an objectively horrible person. Here is a short (incomplete) list of some of the things Jude does that the book never addresses as an issue:
- Masturbates to people’s facebook photos
- Sexually harasses boys when he knows his advances are unwanted
- Calls someone “stuck between straight and gay” ignoring bisexuality
- Watches people have sex without their knowledge
- Steals from school, charity and his own mother
- Goes into the boys’ change room for a “peepshow”
- Gets a cat high
- Ruins a woman’s wedding dress
- He literally cares only about himself and occasionally his brother
- Does plenty of hard drugs
- Kisses a teacher? (this was unclear, Jude fantasizes so much)
This isn’t even touching on Angela who, instead of having safe sex, regularly has abortions. She doesn’t use condoms or birth control because it’s not cool. Who takes her to these abortions? We don’t know, the book treats it like getting several abortions by thirteen isn’t at all unusual. There are so many issues that this book could have dealt with but instead it just presents them and that’s it. Yup, these things sure did happen.
The ending is also a mess. It’s very fantastical and sort of ruins the darker tone the ending could have had. It’s hard to feel anything for Jude because he doesn’t feel human. He feels like a character from a homophobic propaganda film where gay men harass straight men and spy on them in change rooms. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone as shallow and terrible as Jude, so there’s no one in this book to support.
This book has won awards, but Canadian Literature isn’t exactly a hard field to win in. It’s a book that is trying so hard to be edgy it ends up being pathetic, and sort of disgusting. The characters do not feel their age, and none are sympathetic. The whole book feels shallow, which is an issue when it hopes to illicit an emotional response. If Jude was straight no one would even blink twice at calling him a perverted creep. Being gay and bullied does not justify his actions. If the book had included a redemption for Jude it might have been salvageable but it ends up just feeling like a weak attempt at diverse literature.
I could not care less about what fate these characters had, as long as the book was over.