Thursday, August 12, 2010

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Boy ToyBoy Toy  

Barry Lyga

SUMMARY: For the past five years, Josh Mendel has worked hard to be invisible by doing the easy things: being the best hitter on the baseball team, continuing his streak of straight A's, and hanging out with his best friend Zik.  However, as hard as he tried, Josh knows that he will never be invisible because he has a secret: when he was twelve, his seventh-grade history teacher Evelyn Sherman sexually abused him.  But, after the trial and the online leak of Mrs. Sherman's detailed confession, Josh's secret is far from truly hidden or private.  All Josh needs to do is survive long enough to escape town on a college scholarship.  On top of his recent college worries and his long-term anger control issues, he has to deal with the sudden reemergence of Rachel, an old friend he thought he'd lost forever ad the most important baseball game of his life.  Worst of all, Eve has been freed from prison early.  Can Josh ever find a way to understand the events from five years ago and so start running towards his future instead of away from his past?

ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: Holy moly, did this book blow me away! Boy Toy is a powerful, upsetting, and compelling force of a novel.  I assumed from the subject matter (sexual abuse between a teacher and a student) that it would be emotional and intense book but I was not prepared for the reality.  Boy Toy is a very well crafted novel from its construction to its excellent writing.  It manages to pack a big emotional and intellectual punch without ever becoming melodramatic or maudlin.  The novel makes a great attempt to deal honestly with the tangled and complex reality of sexual abuse, from a perspective that frequently remains unheard: that of a young male victim.

Why is Boy Toy so great?  One huge reason is that Josh is such a wonderfully formed character.  He combines intense anger and cynicism with vulnerability; his narration contains sarcastic bite and wit as well as deep unhappiness, fear, and joy.  Josh's three-dimensionality makes his story even more heart-breaking and powerful for a reader.  From the first chapter, I felt as though I knew Josh; his complexity makes him real and knowable in such a way that I felt as though I was experiencing the emotional roller coaster with him.  His confusion, fear, and desire all come through with clarity and potency.  The secondary characters were equally well-crafted, especially the two pivotal women in Josh's life: Rachel and Eve.  

As I said above, Boy Toy is also brilliant for taking on such difficult material in such a respectful yet honest way.  Lyga does not shrink away from somewhat graphic or harsh scenes but instead uses these situations to place the readers even more firmly in Josh's head.  The unflinching look at the after effects of sexual abuse demonstrates that old writing motto: show, don't tell.  Through Josh's narration, Lyga shows the harsh and unsettling reality of a victim's long recovery process; he does not need to tell us about the many ways in which Josh is struggling because they are clearly illustrated through the plot and Josh's internal commentary.  

So, to conclude: I could not put this book down.  I read for a few hours straight, completely immersed in Josh's world and psyche.  The whole time I was cheering for Josh to overcome his many challenges.  Overall, reading Boy Toy was a powerful experience and I recommend the book to older teens and adults who are looking for a great story with emotional and intellectual impact.  Also, Barry Lyga speaks eloquently about his reasoning behind writing Boy Toy at his website's FAQ page.


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