Cliffy, a gifted boy from the projects, finds himself one of only a few African-American kids in his accelerated classes at school. In his recently desegregated school, this is a tough position to maintain. As Cliffy starts to leave behind some of his old crowd, he meets a new friend: a similarly outcast Jewish classmate: Noah. Noah and Cliffy turn their backs on the persecution at school and their complicated home lives, and turn toward each other.
As the novel progresses, Noah and Cliffy’s affection becomes unselfconscious sexual play, and eventually, as each boy grows up a bit, a more self-aware sexual and emotional relationship.
Finlater is Shawn Stewart Ruff’s debut novel, and winner of the 2008 Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction. Ruff’s language is slangy and explicit, and the resulting roughness drives the story hard and fast over what might otherwise be drowsy spots in the plot. Although its main character is a young teen, Finlater is meant for adult readers; they will enjoy this fast, engaging read that turns a precociously mature eye on teenage love and lust. Ruff will surely continue to grow as a writer, but in Finlater, he has already produced a confident and appealing gay coming-of-age novel.
Reviewed by, Rose Yndigoyen