For those of us who were teenagers in the 1980s, we know there was a particular difficulty trying to be a individual during that era. Specific social norms were set out and – no doubt – the scars from trying to be ourselves AND being liked by our peers still show on us today. Janet E. Cameron has documented how difficult it was coming-of-age to adulthood then in her novel Cinnamon Toast and The End of the Word.
‘It’s not the end of the world.’
That’s what people will tell you. That’s what people will tell you when they want to say, ‘Your problems are stupid, your reaction to them is laughable, and I would like you to go away now.
‘Oh, Stephen, for God’s sake, it’s not the end of the world,’ my mother will say, over and over again, in tones of sympathy of distraction. Or sometimes plain impatience.
So of course if she’s ever running around looking for her keys and cursing, I’ll always tell her, ‘It’s not the end of the world, Mom.’ And if she’s really been pissing me off, I’ll scoop the keys up from wherever she’s left them and stick them in my coat pocket. Then I’ll settle back to watch with a sympathetic expression while she tears the house apart looking. Lost keys? Not the end of the world.
I’m not an asshole to my mother all the time, by the way. It’s just sort of a hobby. There’s really not a lot to do in my town.
Cameron has written a great novel through the eyes of Stephen Shulevitz. We see get to see and understand his world in 1987. Three months left of high school in the small town of Riverside, Nova Scotia, he should be excited that he is leaving that way-too small town, but Stephen’s world is ‘about to end’ when he realizes that he has fallen in love with the wrong person.
I couldn’t help thinking that if Mark were here, he’d despise me for the things my mother was saying. I wasn’t sure why, but I was pretty certain he would.
If Mark were here. The image took hold suddenly, like a hand closing over my throat. If Mark were her with me instead of her, instead of Lana. If it had been him under this sloping ceiling, passing me a bottle of vodka to drink. Star anise. Shoved up against the wall, shelves pressing into my back, fumbling with buttons and zippers, half dying. Hands full, mouth full. Of him.
Jesus Christ. I was losing my mind.
Cameron’s grasp of the language that Stephen would use is excellent. She is able clearly show his frustration in dealing with his mother, his distant father and his friends. Not only is this a great book in showing about rural teenage life in the 1980s but is a great YA novel for any teenager to read.
‘It’s these stupid pills,’ Lana said, swiping at her eyes with her fist. ‘You know. The birth control pills – they get me all emotional for no reason. I’m happy, Stephen. Honest. I’m glad you could trust me . . .’ She broke down again, her body trembling against mine.
We lay back under the trampoline in the cool grass with our arms around each other. It was nice under there. Like being a little kid hiding out in a tent in the backyard imagining nobody can find you. The grass pressed against us and left patterns creased into our skin. We were on our sides. She asked me how long I’d been attracted to guys. I told her probably forever.
‘Even when you came to my house? That first time? When your mom got drunk?’ There was a little hitch to her breathing and I was afraid she’d start to cry again.
I ran my hand along her back. ‘You were so nice to me that day. It really turned everything around. That this cool girl from Toronto wanted to be my friend.’
‘You mean the fat girl with the dippy name.’
‘Don’t say that. You’ve beautiful, Svetlana.’
Cinnamon Toast and The End of the World by Janet E. Cameron is a brilliant coming-of-age novel. The language is realistic and colourful, making this book a great read. Hopefully we will get to see more from this author.