Paul Yee’s Money Boy

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Sodagreen’s “Little Universe” (the video above) plays in the background at the sushi restaurant where Ray meets some people who will help him settle into his “new” life. A translation of the lyrics is available at Asian

It’s rare that I finish a book in less than three days. I’m the kind of reader who likes to tear apart every sentence and re-read parts and paragraphs to divine some greater meaning that I might have missed the first time. The speed with which I finished Paul Yee’s Money Boy is either a testament to how engaging the book is or it could be a sign that the book needs a little more depth.

In Money Boy, Ray Liu, a Chinese immigrant from Beijing, tells the familiar teenaged story about bad grades, deaf dads, the language barrier, and the culture shock. To cope, he escapes into a Chinese MMO called “Rebel States” where he is someone of consequence, a burgeoning hero.

The game is the constant in his life. It is the only thing that hasn’t changed. Through the games little dramas and scenarios, Ray is still “Steel”, his character in the game. And while Steel may earn “Honor” points and rank up, at his core he remains unchanged.

This is not the case with Ray who, because his father kicked him out of the house for visiting gay websites, now has to resolve fundamental issues of identity. This is when Ray’s story really begins. In addition to determining whether he is genuinely a gay man and accepting himself as one, Ray also has to figure out where he fits in his “new” gay world.

To date, Money Boy is the only book I’ve read that deals with the emotional and social pressures of coming out in the immigrant Chinese community. “Money Boy” is Chinese slang term for a gay male sex workers. This new perspective sparked my curiosity which partially fueled my finishing the book in the time I did. The other part was the subtle biases Ray alludes to as he describes Toronto’s downtown Chinese residents.

Perhaps because Ray is young, stubborn, and proud. Or perhaps it is simply a part of growing up. Forced out of the comfort of his house and into the chaos of downtown Toronto, it is not only his own sexuality that he must question but the beliefs (biases) he holds about the other Chinese people around him.

Once he is out of his house and staying in a hostel downtown, Ray subtly reveals the sense of privilege he was raised with as a kid in Beijing. In his daily observations about the Cantonese and Fujianese people that work t the restaurants and other area businesses. Paul Yee weaves these differences within the immigrant Chinese community in well. He doesn’t interrupt the flow of his narrative to make his points about these biases. He reveals them as a natural part of Ray’s inner monologue.

Unfortunately, Ray’s acceptance and exploration of his homosexuality is not as well done. The end of the story in particular seemed especially contrived. I felt too much of the book was spent on building up to that important moment when Ray comes out to himself and prepares to venture into his new world. Not enough time is spent on his first impressions of the world as an openly gay immigrant Chinese teen.

Will his old school life experiences be similar to Tyson’s (the other gay teen in the book)? Will he and Tyson travel in the same circles? Which friends will stay? Which will leave? And so on.

I want to know more. I have so many questions but it’s hard to ask without spoilers. Overall, I enjoyed Money Boy. And I understand that it is a Young Adult novel so some of the depth I was looking may have made the book too dense and unfamiliar to young readers.

But where I saw it needed depth as a gay teen narrative, it succeeded in introducing the differences among people in the Chinese immigrant community. Money Boy is an interesting Asian American (Canadian) immigrant narrative as well as a teenager’s personal narrative about coming out.

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