A Kanata children’s author has joined a protest over the awarding of a Governor General’s Literary Award to what critics are calling a “vulgar” and “gratuitous” book for young adults about gender identity issues in high school.
Kathy Clark says she is among 1,500 people across Canada petitioning the Canada Council to revoke the 2014 award because of graphic content in Raziel Reid’s debut novel When Everything Feels like the Movies.
The novel is inspired by the true story of an openly gay 15-year-old California boy who was shot to death in 2008 by a classmate he’d asked to be his Valentine. Its protagonist is a transgender male teen whose “sexual yearnings, masturbating, fantasizing (disturbingly, including sex with his father) and voyeurism constitute the bulk of the narrative,” Barbara Kay wrote in a National Post column.
Clark, author of two children’s books, says Reid’s use of language is inappropriate for a book recognized in the young adult classification (12 to 18) within the children’s literature category.
“I know it’s difficult to write about difficult and sensitive issues,” says Clark. “But it’s very possible to write about them in an appropriate way without resorting to vulgar language.”
For the award, Reid — a graduate of the New York Film Academy and former columnist for Xtra Vancouver — received $25,000, and his publisher Arsenal Pulp Press received $3,000 to promote the book. In a statement to the Citizen, the 25-year-old author said he set out to reflect what young people talk about, and how they talk about it.
“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,” Reid said.
“For my generation, a (Facebook) Like has replaced physical warmth and affection. This has created a nihilistic society obsessed with ‘instafame’ and instant gratification. As a result, youth are facing a deeper isolation than ever before. I wrote this story so that readers can understand lost teenagers like my narrator Jude Rothesay.”
The Canada Council, which adjudicates the literary awards and hands out more than $400,000 in prize money to authors and publishers, said it won’t revoke the award.
“Finalists and winners of the Governor General’s Literary Awards are selected by peer assessment committees, or juries, that are composed of respected members of the literary milieu. They base their decisions on the literary and artistic merit of the books in the competition,” the council’s head of writing and publishing, Arash Mohtashami-Maali, said in a statement.
“The Canada Council for the Arts stands by their choices.”
Peer assessors Kevin Sylvester, Jessica Scott Kerrin and Hiromi Goto evaluated more than 200 submissions in the children’s literature text category and said this about their choice: “An edgy and uneasy story with no simple resolutions, Raziel Reid’s When Everything Feels like the Movies is unflinching. An openly gay teen in a small-minded town, Jude Rothesay’s fantasy life is a movie but his real life isn’t. He is audacious, creative, rude, often hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking. He’s unforgettable.”
When Everything Feels like the Movies is one of five novels to be featured on CBC’s upcoming Canada Reads debate series scheduled for March 16 to 19. A debate will determine which book breaks barriers, change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues. Others cover topics such as the immigrant experience and treatment of aboriginal people.
Clark and another protester, Paddy Dupuis, question why a book aimed at young people was selected.
“I did find it interesting that the Canada Reads books came out and it’s in the adult category, not in the children (category),” says Dupuis.
The CBC did not respond to a request for comment.
Elaine Lui, gossip blogger and co-host on the CTV daytime talk show The Social, will defend the book. In an interview with the CBC, she acknowledged that Reid’s work is the first young adult book to be featured in Canada Reads competition.
“It is my honour to be the first person to defend the first young adult book,” she said. “And in particular this young adult book — not only breaking barriers because of it’s so-called genre, but breaking barriers because the story is about how we marginalize that which is unknown to us and we create victims. But victims don’t have to be defined by our own cruelty, they can rewrite their own stories.”
The petition can be found here.
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