There is an oft-expressed coming-of-age narrative we are familiar with—something unequivocally quiet and clumsy, something that sports all the sentimentality, the angst and the usual gawky suspects. So when Cory Thibert launches into Awkward Hug with an anecdote on how he lost his virginity, one might feel inclined to settle into their expectations. However, it would be an injustice to Cory, Linnea Gwiazdaan and TJ Dawe to say this is just a coming of age story. Yes, there is virginity, screamo bands and Starcraft. Parties were thrown and hearts inevitably broken, but Awkward Hug tempers esoterically youthful quips with briskly honed insights that catch you right in the middle of a joke. Like any good storytelling, expectations are wildly negated.
Punctuated by the countdown till moving out of their family home, Awkward Hug parses the true story of an underrepresented family—Cory’s upbringing by two parents with cerebral palsy. This is however not treated as a point of sympathy, but rather rolled out in the narrative as a beautiful and frank component. What makes Awkward Hug unique is not that it is a story about disability necessarily, but rather that it fully actualizes characters with flaws, humour, and grit.
The plot centres Cory’s relationship to his parents, with deep gestures to other pivotal relationships one might expect from a young adult memoir: his high school girlfriend, his older brother, his best friend. These other narratives are integrated with tactfully chosen details, set to a pliant timeline that fluctuated as the story required. Momentum was truly cultivated in Awkward Hug by the skillful use of rhythm and tone—Cory’s poignant expressivity recreates experience in the intimate way a close friend would reveal something important to you. Without props, his body pushed through moments of the story with varying degrees of intensity, culminating in an impassioned final crescendo that is entirely worth the surprise.
Tensions throughout the story are whipped by aptly timed jokes and deeply vulnerable insights—the (paraphrased) line regarding Cory’s partner learning to “get what she wanted, no matter what”, while he learned to “give (people) what they wanted, no matter what” struck a particular chord. Perhaps because, for me, Awkward Hug so honestly found a way to weigh in on communication. Communication between strangers, between family, communicating over the boundary of other lived experiences—all with humour and seriously affecting vulnerability. Communication is clumsy. The awkward way we bend and curl to meet our loved ones can feel like a dubious magic, though always in a soft way, rewarding.