Clay’s Way by Blair Mastbaum
It’s very rare for me to find a teen novel based in Hawaii that reflects a realistic perspective on racial tension and gay issues in Hawaii, without being culturally generic or watered down. Clays Way by Blair Mastbaum is an honest and gritty depiction of a portion of teen life on Oahu. The story revolves around Sam a pale, skinny, 15 year old, punk-skateboarder who abhors, but at the same time wants to fit into a culture that worships tanned muscular surfers. Sam is an only child and has trouble relating to his bourgeois parents, who try to ignore him as much as possible. One day Sam meets Clay a local surfer at a skate shop and they bond after smoking pot. After a crazy night of drugs and alcohol Sam and Clay hook up. Sam then becomes obsessed with Clay and pursues him with a first loves intensity. However, Clay is not ready to declare he is gay and is torn between being a macho surfer, and admitting that he is in love with Sam. After a Lord of the Flies like experience in the Kauai jungle Clay and Sam have a lover’s spat, which results in Clays almost near self-destruction. The book snowballs into a dramatic ending leaving both Clay and Sam broken, but changed forever.
At first glance, both Sam and Clay are unlikeable characters because they are self-centered, angry, and destructive. However, one must remember that they are two gay teen boys trying to find themselves in a nihilistic way. (Hence, the reason why they listen to a lot of Punk rock throughout the book.) Based on some on-line reviews I found that people either hated or loved this book. And I agree, that this book is not for everyone and a lot of people may find the teen angst and explicit gay sex scenes extremely raunchy and tiresome. In addition, the characters are not positive role models nor is there any apparent moral to the story. However, upon close inspection this novel reveals a truth about human nature, in that all we really want is to be loved and accepted by others. In addition, non-native readers may have a hard time identifying with the local terminology. Hence, a glossary of terms at the end of the book might have been helpful for non-native readers. Also, librarians may be reluctant to recommend this title to younger teens due to the graphic sex scenes, drugs, and a plethora of swear words. However, this book might be helpful for older teens who are going through an identity crisis or who are dealing with gay issues.
*Just a side note: Mastbaum’s appears on the cover. He’s the one smoking.