Sunday, August 21, 2011

“Money Boy”

By Paul Yee
ISBN No. 978-1-55498-093-2

It’s an unspoken rule in children’s books that no one goes all the way. Of course, in real life young people really do have sex. But first times for the poor put-upon youth of kid lit are almost always interrupted by religious guilt, fears of pregnancy, meddlesome parents or dateless sidekicks; all the better to second-guess, come to your senses, and realize you’ve got your whole life ahead of you.
Fifteen year-old Ray Liu has his whole life ahead of him too – as everyone keeps telling him. As a new immigrant to Toronto he’s still learning English. As the leader of the online game, “Rebel State,” he’s learning about honour and teamwork. As a closeted gay youth he’s learning about cultural homophobia - especially when his army veteran Dad evicts him after discovering he’s gay.
Like any young gaysian he heads to Toronto’s Chinatown. “The first time we came here,” he recalls, “I was surprised at how big this district was, full of Chinese restaurants, Chinese stores and Chinese people. I thought, if people want to do Chinese business and buy Chinese groceries, then they should stay in China!”
After he’s beaten and robbed he realizes/rationalizes that becoming a prostitute couldn’t be that bad, could it? Like an actor, athlete or model, he’s just going to use his body to make money. “I feel as though I am in a jerky fast-forward video,” he says. “Monday I get kicked out of the house. Blippety-blip. Tuesday I am homeless at a shelter. Blippety-blip. Wednesday I dine with a drag queen. Thursday I sell my body. Blippety-blip.” But will Ray second-guess himself, come to his senses, and realize he’s got his whole life ahead of him BEFORE it’s too late?
I’m not going to tell you what Ray does, but by the last third of the book he’s saying, “if the thief who stole my laptop could break into my skull and steal the last sixty minutes of my life, I would pay him well.”
After enduring the endless courtship of the vampire genre’s erotically neutered tweens (please no e-mails) it’s a pleasant surprise to read about young people who are actually interested in sex – and aware of its exploitation. Maybe Paul Yee (“Ghost Train”, “Dead Man’s Gold”) is the only writer sensitive and reckless enough to handle a reality that many parents wouldn’t want their children to know exists. He beautifully captures both the narcissism of youth (Ray is equally desperate for food, shelter and to “get back to Rebel State. Players are waiting for me to lead the fight against the guerrilla war”) as well as the cultural tyranny faced by both young immigrants and older gay men (“Younger men laughing in a circle, they’re a fortress with no door. A stranger can walk around them and around them and never find an opening”). For a book about the oldest profession seen through new eyes FOR young readers, “Money Boy” is nothing less than astonishing. It’s perhaps Yee’s best book yet.