December 11, 2006

Roadtrips with Hustlers

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Jordan is a hustler, a seventeen year old who has the perfect, pretty features older men want. He has friends who give him what he wants, what he needs, to get by. He takes care of no one but himself, and he knows he could live a lot better than he does, if he were willing to give up what little self he has left, but he refuses to be anyone but his own man. For this reason, he lives in an abandoned cellar in New York, and is an unwilling witness to a rape. He scares off the attackers, and is left with what they left behind -- a girl named Wanda who seems a little simplistic, a little childlike, a little strange. Jordan worries for this innocent, knowing that she could be ill, and takes her to a free clinic. She bites him in the arm like a dog, and he ends up with a rabies shot himself.

This is the basis for a powerful friendship.


Drifting, with a need for affection that is missing from his cash-encounters and his fractured family, Jordan, his own head barely above water, latches inexplicably onto 18-year-old Wanda, whom he has renamed as Chloe, with deep affection. She sleeps with him innocently, and he cares for her with filial affection, protecting her from people who hit on her, or people who would hit her. Jordan gives up his burgeoning sexuality, his older male partners, and his gigilo lifestyle for the powerful drug of being needed. In return, Chloe is his constant, cheerful companion, almost simple minded in her sweet serenity, though she holds a terribly secret, which is hinted at darkly as having the power to destroy her.

Jordan, trying to get her help for her unstated mental illness, decides to show her that Life is Beautiful. In the most enjoyable portion of the book, Jordan takes Chloe on a cross-country trip in an old Chevy truck, and together they discover the beauty of the natural world, the satisfaction of the smallest beauties and some major ones like the Grand Canyon. They also encounter drunk people, mean people and tough people who beat them up and take what they have. In a way, this story reads more like a parable, a "do unto others" philosophy with a story molded to fit. Many things are not explored, including Jordan's sexuality, and Chloe's mental illness and her past, leaving the reader with questions. However, the travelogue is enjoyable, and readers get a genuine vicarious joy from 'seeing' all of the places Jordan and Chloe see through their eyes.

Though the story was difficult to get into and truly stretched believability with its saccharine sweetness, Becoming Chloe is very simply a "what if" kind of story for people who dream of a world more straightforward -- and much better -- than it is, and it encourages an appreciation of the real America that is, made up of people who really are, for the most part, helpful and kind.

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