Sunday, April 4, 2010

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Normally, I wouldn't use this blog to write a formal book review. After all, I'm not a journalist or a critic. But every once in awhile I come across a piece of literature so powerful that I feel compelled to share it with the world.

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga is a novel about an 18-year-old young man named Joshua Mendel. Handsome, athletic and highly intelligent, he's what many would consider to be a "golden boy" -- if not for the fact that he was molested by his history teacher five years ago.

Eve, as she likes to be called, seduced Joshua over several weeks. First in the classroom, then in her own apartment. It wasn't long before she and Joshua started kissing, groping, and eventually engaged in both oral and vaginal sex. Excited as Joshua is by his "relationship" with Eve, it's clear to the reader that she is psychologically unwell, and that Joshua is a victim.

The plot is unique in that it begins when Joshua is 18-years-old and then flashes back to when the affair between him and Eve began five years prior. For all his athletic and academic prowess, not to mention his vast sexual experience, Joshua finds himself unable to have normal relations with a peer. That is, he finds any kind of sexual activity to be traumatizing. Not unusual, considering what he's been through. 

After Joshua's parents discovered the affair, Eve was sentenced to prison. I don't remember how long she was supposed to serve, but due to overcrowding and her good behavior, she only served five years. When the news breaks that she's on parole, Joshua finds himself panicked, distressed, yet also overcome with desire to see her again -- to finally put to rest the ghosts of the past that have haunted him for years.

Lyga's writing is sharp and vivid -- particularly when it came to the sex scenes. I know, I know: sex scenes involving a 13-year-old boy and his 20-something history teacher aren't the kind of thing that one should call "vivid," but I can't help it. Lyga really brought the scenes to life in a way that even made me squirm. Liberal as I am, I firmly believe that a 13-year-old boy should not be receiving hand-jobs from his teacher in her apartment. Particularly after watching porn.

Those details might make Boy Toy sound cheap or sensationalistic, but I assure you it is not. There's simply too much good stuff in terms of the prose and voice of the novel that make Boy Toy a cut above other crap written for teenagers. This isn't any shallow trite like Gossip Girl, and unlike Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, Lyga's characters are well-drawn and deeply sympathetic. 

At the core of Boy Toy is a young man trying to overcome his past and understand it as well. Without giving too much away, Joshua is very, very confused over what happened between him and Eve. Whether their relationship was his "fault" or if he was even a victim at all. Only after these questions are answered can he begin to lay the foundation for his future -- and despite the blood, sweat and tears throughout the novel, Boy Toy manages to end on a realistic yet uplifting note.

I recommend this book for anyone who was captivated by any and all teacher-student sex scandals involving female teachers and male students, especially if they're interested in the victim's perspective. Whenever there's a sex scandal between a teacher and a student, the teacher is the focus. In Boy Toy, we finally get to hear what's going through the teenager's mind -- and what a mind it is.

I'm giving Lyga a solid "A" grade for this one. I tore through the book at a rapid pace, and when I finally turned the last page, I didn't want the story to end. I suspect that Joshua will stay with me, psychologically speaking, for quite some time. He's really that vivid a character, one that has a story that deserves as much recognition as possible.

Seriously folks, buy this book. I guarantee you won't regret it.

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