Friday, December 5, 2014

Clay's Way, by Blair Mastbaum

A blurb on the back of Clay's Way calls it "a gay Catcher in the Rye," and that was almost enough to make me not read the book. Mind you, I love both those things - Catcher in the Rye, and... gayness... but I've seen so many weak books flogged as "the next Catcher in the Rye" that it's become a code word for "book that tries too hard to do something that's already been done."

Fortunately, I got over myself. And read Clay's Way. And it was amazing. And in the end, I thought to myself, yeah, wow, it does kind of hit the same emotional sweet spot as Catcher in the Rye. Not because it's imitative, or even because it treads similar ground, but because it has the same dark cynical strong compelling gorgeous voice that the best young adult fiction has (and what is Catcher in the Rye but a great YA novel?).
Sam is a sixteen year old kid who lives in Hawaii. He's conflicted and unhappy and gay, but not
conflicted and unhappy because he's gay. This alone made me prick up my ears, since so often the journeys of gay adolescent characters are about struggling with their identity. Sam doesn't struggle. He knows who he is. He's angsty, but not because he's gay. He's angsty because he's a teenager.

He meets Clay, a big dumb handsome strong older surfer boy, and he falls in love. And so do we, that's how compellingly and urgently are Sam's emotions written. Their scenes together are weird and uncertain and sexy and scary and sweet, pulling the reader forward with the crazy confused energy of a teenager in love. Is Clay gay? Do they hook up because he cares about Sam, or because he's vain and likes the attention, or both, or neither? We don't know, and Sam definitely doesn't know. And then Clay sort of loses his mind. And Sam might get everything he wants, and it might be terrible.

The prose has a beautiful hungry urgency. Watch for that last sentence. It's a killer.

Clay's Way hits all the beats of the best doomed YA romances, and doesn't fall all over itself trying to reinvent the wheel because it's about two boys. It's got sex and cursing and queer adolescent boys will be delighted to see proof on the page that EVEN THOUGH THEY'RE NOT STRAIGHT, they too can enjoy the wonders of miserable confusing painful awkward destructive love affairs.

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