An Asian American Lit Fans post alerted to me to this book and apparently I’m open to reading “anything”. From Amazon, I learned that Paul Yee’s books are diverse and I started by reading his short study of Canadian Chinatowns. I wanted to read Money Boy, released in August 2011, as summer fare but summer got away from me as it is wont to.
The central character, Ray Liu, is a millenial teenager who reluctantly moved to Canada from Beijing two years before with his father, stepmother and half-brother. The father is strict being ex-military and ex-police and the stepmother is a good match as an ambitious restauranteur. Their values are at odds with Ray who consequently yearns to live with his mother who neglected him and there is evidence she prostituted herself to raise money to pay her gambling debts.
Ray’s friends, as you might imagine in a Toronto suburb (it is not named), are fellow Chinese immigrant teens and they struggle to learn English and make it through high school although Ray seems below average at the endeavour. He excels, however, at a Chinese online role-playing game, Rebel State, where he leads a virtual army, all at the cost of a lot of studying time. I wasn’t feeling too much sympathy for Ray until his father confronts him about checking out gay websites which he only knows from installing snooping software on the home computer. Without waiting for any sort of explanation, the father throws Ray out and Ray heads downtown.
Predictably, he is mugged on his first night on the street and I did feel again for him a little how he couldn’t prove his identity to anyone thereafter because he wasn’t old enough and hadn’t taken control of his paperwork. There is the additional barrier of his pride and fear of reflecting badly on immigrants. The pride and fear work as a double-edged sword. Pride keeps him from scavenging on leftover food but he also thinks he’s above staying in a shelter and pays to stay in a hostel. The big question is, when will he resort to being a “money boy”, the Chinese term for young men who sell their bodies to older men. And does he reconcile with his father?
The novel is a thin volume and spans just one week of his life. The tone is light enough for adolescents that you know nothing too bad will happen. It wasn’t sugar-coated but Ray did not get off scott-free. The book wrapped up a little open-ended as life tends to be and I wasn’t too pleased or annoyed either way.
See, I had a difficult time relating to the character. I know I’m not the target demographic. I’m older than the target young adult audience. I am not young or male or exploring my sexuality. The whole package of a online gaming adolescent Chinese immigrant male youth who struggles with school and English makes for an unsympathetic character to me. I am further unsympathetic because he has a brother who can be the model child. I felt like the character was supposed to learn some harsh lessons while on the street but it wasn’t all sinking in on him. The one true part of the character, I found, is his desire to seek his parents’ approval and that, thankfully, guides him correctly.