I can’t remember who said it, but someone once noted that all gay cinema involves one of two things: an idealistic gay youth is outed and kicked out of the house, or an idealistic gay youth goes into prostitution with mixed results. And sometimes, it’s both simultaneously.
Money Boy is the story of Ray Liu, an idealistic gay youth/Chinese immigrant living in Toronto with his family. Due to his inability to fully adapt to Canadian life the way his friends and family have, Ray finds himself somewhat separated from others, and his grades in school suffer accordingly. After his hard-nosed father finds out Ray is gay through a cursory internet history search, Ray finds himself out on the street, where he learns to make ends meet via prostitution.
Despite hitting a few too many “Very Special Episode” flags for my liking, Paul Yee’s deft prose in this book meant for young adults does help flesh out the character of Ray, through a mix of terseness and the slang that helps define Ray’s worldview. Even though Ray is rather guarded and insular, Yee allows readers to enter his head just enough to sympathize with him, without opening him up to the point where his characteristic aloofness is betrayed for the sake of exposition.
It is a rather short read (at 184 pages and with a font that can be read from the other side of a dark room), but despite its brevity, Yee pulls together a fully realized protagonist.
There is, however, one glaring asterisk: Yee succumbs to the pitfall of not allowing enough breathing room between the climax and the resolution.
Almost immediately after Ray performs his first outcall (and subsequently pukes: love the subtlety!), his father finds him and convinces him to come home to see his grandfather. There’s no room for Ray to seriously ponder how having sex for money has affected him or for a dialogue to be opened about how prostitution was the only viable option for Ray to support himself in his circumstances.
There was real potential for some sort of insight and character growth to come from this, but the ending is so rushed it doesn’t leave room. It’s the literary equivalent of a premature orgasm: Money Boy reached its climax too soon and chose to roll over and fall asleep, leaving me disappointed in the wet patch.
This criticism aside, Money Boy is worth reading, especially if you happen to be in the mood for something you can polish off over the course of an afternoon.