When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid

School is just like a film set: there’s The Crew, who make things happen, The Extras who fill the empty desks, and The Movie Stars, whom everyone wants tagged in their Facebook photos. But Jude doesn’t fit in. He’s not part of The Crew because he isn’t about to do anything unless it’s court-appointed; he’s not an Extra because nothing about him is anonymous; and he’s not a Movie Star because even though everyone know his name like an A-lister, he isn’t invited to the cool parties. As the director calls action, Jude is the flamer that lights the set on fire. Before everything turns to ashes from the resulting inferno, Jude drags his best friend Angela off the casting couch and into enough melodrama to incite the paparazzi, all while trying to fend off the haters and win the heart of his favourite co-star Luke Morris. It’s a total train wreck! But train wrecks always make the front page.

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What a daring debut from 24 year-old, Raziel Reid.  The book is inspired by the true story of Lawrence Forbes King.  To avoid giving away the storyline, look up King after reading the book.

In this fictional story, readers are introduced to the flamboyant Jude, with a stripper mom and sexually promiscuous best friend.  Jude is confident in his sexuality, and expresses himself by regularly wearing stripper boots, lipstick, and nail polish. He asserts “… it’s better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not. (pg. 100)”

The title ‘When Everything Feels like the Movies’ comes from Jude picturing his life as a glossy Hollywood movie. Even though classmates verbally and physically assault him, he consoles himself by imagining himself as an actor in a movie, a tabloid celebrity with haters. He likes to always be trending.

Even chapter titles relate to the film industry (Hidden Feature, Final Cut, etc.). This illusion may have served as a guard or protection against reality, but in the end, Jude realizes “the script had been altered, and I didn’t want to star in this cheap fucking movie anymore (pg. 166).” I think the self-deception was the strongest element of the novel, as it was heartbreakingly clear to readers that Jude’s largely homophobic small town was taking its toll.

Although this book was awarded the Governor General Literacy Award Winner for Children’s Literature, it is a teen book. The sexual content, graphic violence and strong language are not suitable for a younger audience.  For the rest of the winners, click here.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

The Night Gardener follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house. But the house and its family are not quite what they seem. Soon the children are confronted by a mysterious spectre and an ancient curse that threatens their very lives. With Auxier’s exquisite command of language, The Night Gardener is a mesmerizing read and a classic in the making.

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This mysterious middle grade tale was such a treat inside and out! I loved the visually appealing cover, chapter title decorations and black outer pages. They hinted at the dark, spooky, Victorian ghost story that lurked between the pages.

Divided into three parts Arrivals, Pursuits, and Departures, the story surrounds two orphans that find themselves deep in the middle of a forest, in a strange house with a mysterious tree and night guest. It is a magical, yet creepy tale that reminded me of The Brothers Grimm and Neil Gaiman. Indeed, in the Author’s Note, Auxier acknowledges many influences in his writing.

The atmospheric story also has underlying themes of greed, honesty, loyalty and family. There are consequences and lessons to be learned. The power of storytelling is also explored through the travelling old woman- Hester Kettle. It is Hester that first tells Kip and Molly about the legend of “The Night Gardener”.

This excellent standalone is chalk full of intriguing characters and exciting suspense. However, be warned that there are some darker scenes (including death) and may not be suitable for younger readers.

Moon At Nine by Deborah Ellis

Fifteen-year-old Farrin has many secrets. Although she goes to a school for gifted girls in Tehran, as the daughter of an aristocratic mother and wealthy father, Farrin must keep a low profile. It is 1988; ever since the Shah was overthrown, the deeply conservative and religious government controls every facet of life in Iran. If the Revolutionary Guard finds out about her mother’s Bring Back the Shah activities, her family could be thrown in jail, or worse. The day she meets Sadira, Farrin’s life changes forever. Sadira is funny, wise, and outgoing; the two girls become inseparable. But as their friendship deepens into romance, the relationship takes a dangerous turn. It is against the law to be gay in Iran; the punishment is death. Despite their efforts to keep their love secret, the girls are discovered and arrested. Separated from Sadira, Farrin can only pray as she awaits execution. Will her family find a way to save them both?

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Recommended by a colleague, Moon at Nine tells the heartbreaking story of Farrin and Sadira; teenage girls in love in 1988 Iran.  I must say, I learned a lot from reading about the culture and Farrin`s very different set of experiences.  For instance, Farrin`s parents throw dinner parties to drown out the sound of nearby bombings, and she regularly attend school remembrance ceremonies for classmates.

I have grown accustomed to hearing news reports about political upheavals and violent demonstrations, but reading about the characters and knowing that the book is based upon a true story really struck me. Sadira and Farrin`s love is true and strong; and they decide to risk everything (including their safety) to be together.  I loved reading their secret notes, and their strategy to communicate `I love you` by coughing three times.

“So, we will live then,” said Farrin. “We will love and work as though we could die tomorrow. And then we will have no regrets.” P. 96

They remain true to themselves, even though being gay is against the law and punishable by death in 1988 Iran. It`s definitely a story that needs to be told, and a sad reality that being gay is still considered a criminal offence in more than 70 countries.  The final outcome of their story was tough to swallow.

Even though Moon at Nine is a short and quick read; it is one that will stay with you for a long time. I can definitely see this book being used in the classroom to explore cultural and LGBT issues. Ellis even includes Book Guide Questions to start the important and thought provoking discussions to engage youth.

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