In her poignant debut, Janet E. Cameron tells the story of high-school senior Stephen Shulevitz – smart, socially awkward, and secretly in love with his best friend, Mark. Stephen’s not really exaggerating when he refers to the end of the world: he lives in 1980s small-town Nova Scotia, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. To make matters worse, Mark is highly religious, homophobic, and possessed of an extremely scary temper.
As the story unfolds, Cameron reveals that Stephen’s life has comprised a series of “end of the world” events, including his distant, emotionally abusive father abandoning his family when Stephen was only nine years old. Yet Stephen’s problems do not define him; he is far from being a one-dimensional character and has complex relationships with his mother, his friend Lana, and even Mark. Stephen’s fear of coming out goes hand-in-hand with his fear of being reduced to a cliché, be it as a stereotypical gay man or small-town hick.
Don’t be fooled by its frothy title: this novel isn’t nearly as sweet as the eponymous breakfast food. As with most coming-of-age stories, Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World has its share of lighthearted and tender moments. But it also has emotional depth that distinguishes it from most of its genre counterparts.
Where this novel truly excels is in its ability to tackle several difficult subjects with clarity and conviction. From homophobia to bullying to parental abuse, Cameron doesn’t shy away from the complexity of her material, and the effects are heart-wrenching. This stunning debut will surely appeal to both teenage readers and adults.