title: Money Boy
author: Paul Yee
date: Groundwood Books; 2011
main character: Wei/Ray/Steel
While coming out stories are quite common place in queer teen literature, few if any are about a Chinese immigrant to Canada.
Wei’s father does a random check into to the history files of the family’s computer and discovers that his son has been cruising gay sites. The father kicks his son out of their home. Now homeless, Wei must decide if he is indeed gay, whether he should come out and how he’s going to make a living. Going home is not an option to him because in doing so, his father would win.
Wei is called ‘Ray’ by his American friends. He’s a recent immigrant who barely speaks English and he finds himself exploring China’s societal rules as he tries to decide how he will live his life. He’s well aware of China’s homophobia, but not sure if perhaps he could fit into Canadian society. He’s aware of the street lined with ‘money boys’, those boys who sell themselves for sex, and he doesn’t think he belongs there.
Wei’s never been a good student, yet he has street smarts. He comes from a place of privilege having grown up with the latest technology and all the brand name clothes that he prefers. On the streets he realizes how fast and how far he has fallen and at that same time, he must still behave in a manner that will not bring disgrace upon his family. He cannot give Westerners any reason to laugh at immigrants.
Paul Yee is a writer and historian living in Toronto, Canada. His recent books is The Secret Keepers.
Yee enunciates characters and situations through his use of setting and situations, often involving food and video games. While playing his favorite video game, Rebel Command, the narrator tells Wei;s alter ego Steel,
“No, Steel, you’re the coward. You fear failure. You would rather die quickly than work slowly to reduce the enemy’s power. Besides, what do you know about ordinary people? You were born into wealth.”
Some lines are so telling that they are just heart breaking. Others come after so much has been taken from Wei and begin to shed a glimmer of hope.
“I dig through all my pockets, fishing out every piece of loose change. My fingertips are stiff but they manage to count the coins. Behind me, office workers clear their throats and rustle their newspapers. At the last moment, I find just enough money.”
As more and more is taken from Wei, he finds himself on Bay Street at a Japanese restaurant. He walks us through the quality of the food, the origin of the music, the appearance of the men at the restaurant and the timbre of their voice. These men, these gay men, are Chinese. Here, Wei begins to find some of his answer. The other answers are with his family.