Saskatchewan-born author Paul Yee is known for his award-winning tales of Chinese-Canadians. In his latest effort, 18-year-old Ray Liu has a lot on his plate: an uphill battle to improve his English; a hot-tempered and demanding father; an absentee mother; a stepmother who uses him for free labour in her restaurant; and a stepbrother who is obviously the family favourite. When his father confronts him after finding gay-oriented websites in his browser history, Ray finds himself out on the streets of Toronto without food, shelter, or money.
Anger toward his father, fear of rejection by his friends, and a sense of himself as a second-class citizen force Ray to make the drastic decision of turning to prostitution rather than trying to find support in his image-conscious community of friends and relatives. Even after the experience with his first paid client makes him vomit, Ray begins to consider sex work an integral part of growing up and coming out.
Given the dearth of LGBT characters in YA fiction – particularly gay males who tell their own stories – it’s great to see a sympathetic figure like Ray allowed a voice. His sexuality, combined with the pressures of cultural expectations, school, and keeping up with the latest technology and clothes, form an almost unbearable load to carry.
Ultimately, Ray goes home to greet a visiting grandfather who is only momentarily irked by his grandson’s sexuality. It is unclear whether Ray will return home for good or go back to prostitution, an ending that leaves too many threads unresolved, both for the character and for readers, and ultimately mars an otherwise engaging and satisfying book.