Like a Hurricane by award-winning Montreal author and elementary school teacher Jonathan Bécotte, and translated by Jonathan Kaplansky, is a novel in verse about a young teen struggling to reveal his true self to friends and family. This lyrical first-person confessional charts the course of his intense inner commotion and packs an emotional wallop.
The narrator worries that coming out might have category-five storm repercussions: “I’m afraid that the truth, / my truth, / the one whistling in my heart, / will carry away my house and my family / all at the same time.” Trying to suppress his authentic identity is self-destructive. Wind metaphors blow throughout the story and have multiple nuanced meanings. The teen is always short of breath and spent by the gale-force efforts involved in keeping a secret anchored: “I wasn’t born to be a hurricane. But I can no longer hold back the winds inside, can no longer silence what resounds within me.”
Bécotte’s elegant writing uses a poetic economy of words. Stylized typography emphasizes potent statements and conveys emotion. Some phrases, such as “my invisible audience” appear as faint as a whisper, while the emphatically bold “CRASH” of his slamming bedroom door is as loud and urgent as the sounding of an alarm. The letters comprising “Crying / has always been / a part of me” trickle down the page vertically, like falling tears. When the youth acknowledges he is unsure “what to think anymore or which way to turn”, his outpourings are a roiling swirl, like a satellite image of a hurricane.
The narrator, in text that is immediate and immersive, shares memories of growing up not being able to see himself represented in library books, and of overhearing disparaging, homophobic comments lobbed by an adult passersby. A striking, first-person direct address provides a pivotal turn in the storytelling: “And in the middle of this whirlwind, / there is YOU. / A special friend, / my forever sidekick.” Readers are afforded another layer of connection, along with the revelation of who the narrator is pouring out his heart to, and why. Finding shelter in the support of a trusted confidante (his favourite “tidal wave”), and with the loving acceptance of his parents, the teen is able to speak loud and clear, and be heard above the tempest’s din.
Originally published in French, Comme un ouragan was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2021. Sensitive and reassuring, this book powerfully explores the deeply personal and universal need to breathe “for real, / for the first time.”