Monday, February 02, 2015

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World: It Gets Better

The most heartbreaking story you can tell is that of love rebuffed, because it isn't just that the person doesn't love you back: it's that they refuse your love, and then use it against you, mocking you with it.

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World (CTatEotW) does a great job of telling the story of complete and utter emotional devastation that is love rebuffed.

Stephen spends the first seven years of his life living on a hippy commune, getting homeschooled. His family then moves to a small town where he doesn't fit in and is ill-equipped to interact with the kids in school. He gets picked on a lot until he gets a champion in the form of Mark, a tough kid who needs help with his homework. 

Cinnamon toast is really tasty, btw.
It's all going along swimmingly until a few months before high school graduation when Stephen realizes that he's in love with Mark. Then it all goes south, and fast.

It's the 1980s, so no one is out yet -- not even George Michael or the guys from Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It probably isn't even a hate crime yet to beat up people simply for being gay.  In other words, regardless of what Our Man Jeff would lead you to believe, it is not the best time to discover you're gay. 

Stephen has a terrible time coming to grips with the reality of who he is. And he feels he can't tell anyone. He doesn't know if the person he tells will be supportive or revolted by his revelation. He confides in only one person: his other best friend, Lana. But then Stephen goes down a self-destructive spiral and betrays her, leaving him even more isolated and alone than he was previously.

The real strength of CTatEotW is the way Janet E. Cameron captures what it's like to suddenly realize that you're different and that you're in love with the wrong person: the self-doubt; the self-destruction; the anger; the sadness; the heartbreak. But most importantly, the dawning that everyone knew what was going on before you even did. That sinking feeling that everyone was in on the joke except you -- that everyone has been talking about you your whole life without your knowledge.

It's a feeling that anyone who's ever come out is familiar with. That feeling of the floor falling out from below you as you realize that everyone has known and has been talking about you for years. When that feeling is compounded with the rebuffed feelings, it's so much more devastating.

But it's not all gloom and teen angst: there's fun and games and making out and telling off parents and partying with friends. And each of the supporting characters in Stephen's story are fully realized, real human beings: his mother, who had to raise him on her own; his absentee father, who is just your typical self-involved academic; Lana; Lana's boyfriend; Mark; and even Mark's girlfriend, Stacey. They all have motivations, back stories, feelings, ambitions, and regrets. None of them feel like stand-ins or place-holders. They're all characters in their own right. You almost want entire novels written telling their stories.

CTatEotW is more than just a few months spent with Stephen as he finally becomes who he is and stops pretending to be someone else. It's the story of how his self-discovery is felt by everyone around him, too, making this a really great coming of age novel.

Oh, the other good thing is that the story has a happy ending: like the song and video for Small Town Boy, he moves to a city and leaves the homophobic asshats behind.  

No comments:

Post a Comment