Dueling reviews: Cinnamon Toast and the end of the World by Janet E. Cameron
Angel food for thought:
This stunning debut by Janet E. Cameron is a beautiful coming of age story told from the perspective of a young man who is coming out in the 1987 in very rural Nova Scotia. Stephen has fallen in love with his best friend and it is the end of the world. Not the literal world, but that part of the world that Stephen had come to know so well and a world that he wanted to keep forever.
Stephen is trying to navigate his last few months of being a high school student, leaving his friends, his over dependent mother, and going off to higher education and becoming himself. Yet in the traditional way of the world nothing happens the way he envisions it. Stephen is trying to learn to spread his wings and fly, but he wants nothing more than to hide in bed and escape from the world. Will Mark ever understand how he feels about him? Will his Mom ever let go of him and let him go out into the world? Will Stephen be able to accept himself?
This is a well written and well conceived coming of age story. Stephen is an exceptionally dimensional character and all the supporting cast are also well rounded and real. The only issue that I would have with this book is that the story is so good is was a little hard to read at times.
Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World basically sums up the life of Stephen Shulevitz in eight simple words. Born to a Russian-Ukranian mother and a hippie Jewish father, Stephen once entered the world as Stepan Vladimir Shulevitz in the year of 1969, in a little town named Riverside in Nova Scotia, Canada. He's a hard worker, always getting the best marks in class and getting tormented for it, and he shies away from confrontation - luckily his best friend Mark takes care of that for him. As Stephen matures through his elementary school years into adolescence and the story humorously unfolds, the title begins to make sense: Stephen's mother makes cinnamon toast because it is a less ethnic choice for breakfast food (she doesn't want to feel "foreign", instead she wants to fit in), and Stephen is a little more dramatic than your average teen so many situations in his life seems like the end of the world for him.
Cinnamon Toast is written by Janet E. Cameron, who was born in Nova Scotia herself. Although the setting may reflect the author's roots, the main character is very unique. Janet thanks in her acknowledgments her "patient husband" Aodhan, but Stephen Shulevitz is gay. What's truly amazing about the book is that while reading it, up til the very last sentence, I could not tell if the author was speaking from personal experience or not. Obviously not, but it was written so well that I would have believed it. Stephen faces so many challenges, verbal and physical harassment alike, ones that bruise, ones that fade, and one that breaks his arm, for being gay, and for being different. The situations ring with truth and pain. Especially in a small-town mindset that Riverside has, the people are a lot less friendly towards people of various sexual orientations.; you were either straight, or you were shunned. I hurt for Stephen, but I also cheer him on, as he learns to grow out of what people say and avoid aggravation by choosing what he decides to hear. This novel follows Stephen as he unwillingly falls in love with his best friend Mark McAllister, the big kid nobody messed with. Mark is strongly (and openly) against homosexuals, and especially desperate to disbelieve that his best friend could be one - and in love with him - and this puts an incredible strain on their friendship.
Janet E. Cameron does not make this your typical teen romance. She makes it something more, something funnier in tone and grimmer in content. She includes the bloody fights, the uncensored vulgarity, the inexperienced sex, the destructive abandonment, and the desolation of a young gay ethnic man living in the 80s. You should definitely read Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World, if you know what's good for you.