‘Cinnamon toast and the end of the world’ may be the most dramatic book I have come to review so far. I guess I generally go for some very solid genre-writing in my reviews, but this one is not only more general as a genre, but more intensive than some horror writing I’ve read. That sounds like a good start, right?
“Anyway, what I am trying to say is, ‘not the end of the world’ is utter bullshit. Sometimes it really is the end of the world. Sure, everything’s continuing the same as it ever did, but there’s been a shift. Suddenly you don’t know what the rules are. People will do things that leave you baffled. Or maybe you’ll surprise yourself, start acting like a person you don’t recognise. And you have to live in it now, this new world. You can’t ever go back.” – pages 1-2.
Cameron’s debut novel is set in the 1980s and is about a young boy, Stephen Shulevitz, who is about to finish school but has felt the world quake as though it had ended. But not because school is ending: he keeps thinking about kissing his best friend Mark and what exactly that might mean.
Cameron’s writing is solid, and the themes are dramatic and tense as Stephen has to confront his world and himself in it. The way he processes these changes mentally and the understanding of society’s relationship with the homosexual community during the 80s left me with squeamish feelings often (definitely a good thing for relating and engaging with a reader). I do think as a main character, that Stephen for his age was too mentally mature at times, but because of his intelligence and aptitude with scholarly endeavours this could explain his moments of arrogance and bring his character back into balance.
I see this novel as character-driven, and I really felt that the characters were solid as they tried to deal with their own challenges of growing up, school and family life. I enjoyed the cultural elements that were within the books as Stephen’s family had a Ukrainian-Russian background, which brought up new tensions in the book as well in relation to the time period. I enjoyed the fact that some characters did not necessarily grow and develop, nor did they completely resolve particular difficulties or challenges in their lives. This was a strong realistic point of Cameron’s book. And whilst this may be because the focus was on the development of the protagonist, I liked that it meant the way Stephen had to relate to people in his life was more realistic.
Now I haven’t said a lot of what I didn’t like. To be honest, it is well written, well developed, and there are spurts of humour and amazing lines that make this book memorable. Maybe some readers would find this book incredibly hard to read because the majority of the book isn’t light-hearted and it isn’t filled with a lot of happy moments, or even necessarily a happily ever after (though depending on how you read the end, there is hope for Stephen and his relationships with people). But, I’ve never shied away from heaviness, and because it tensed in the right moments for me, this is not a bad read, even if it might upset you after what some characters go through or how they choose to deal with things.
I would recommend this book to anyone really; because I think the struggles Stephen goes through help people understand their own life better and just how much the world can feel like it’s ending, even when no one else notices. Also, don’t read this if you are only interested in the books that leave you feeling good about yourself and the world; Cameron has really created a text set in a time that glimpses at how people deal with difference and their own understanding of identity that can still reflect today and not leave you feeling good about actual human nature (you should note I didn’t find it the most depressing story I have ever read, but just be warned that it is going to tug on your heart a bit).
But read it, this book is good!