Thursday, February 14, 2008

Book Review: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Book: Boy Toy
Author: Barry Lyga
Published: 2007
Cybils Winner, YA Category

At twelve years old, Josh Mendel loves baseball, video games, and math. He goofs around with his best friends, tries to ignore it when his parents fight, and looks forward to learning all those neat mysteries of girls and sex. All that changes when he gets involved with Eve. She's an older woman. A lot older. Like, twice his age older. And she's doing things with and to him that are also twice his age. For awhile, it's the best thing that ever happened to Josh--a fantasy come to life. Then, when the secret breaks out, it swiftly becomes the worst.

At eighteen, Josh is applying to colleges and playing varsity baseball. He's still dealing with stares, whispers, and what he calls "flickers"--momentary sensory flashbacks, so real that it's like he's there again. He can't wait to get out of town and leave it all behind. But Josh is about to learn that he can't leave it behind until he goes through it one more time . . .

"Ripped from the headlines" is a term I heard applied to this book a lot. With the media attention to female-teacher/male-student relationships, it's an irresistible temptation to get into the heads of the people involved. Lucky for us, that's exactly what Lyga does. He introduces us to Josh and takes us along with him as Eve spins her web. This teacher's seduction of Josh is a masterpiece of subtle manipulation. At first, the secrets between them are small: video games he's not allowed to play at home. Then they escalate: wine, lies to his parents. None of this is wrong, she is swift to assure him. It's just that people wouldn't understand. And they really wouldn't understand what happens next.

We have such a double standard concerning older women seducing young boys. Girls molested by their teachers are the victims, no question about it. But a boy with a hot female teacher? Oh, right, poor kid. Lyga shows us how Josh's relationship with Eve is no different--no less abusive, no less manipulative--than a girl's with a man twice her age.

I'd be interested to see how Barry Lyga researched this subject; what kind of books, articles, and interviews he read to get a feel for this misunderstood relationship. While it has somewhat graphic scenes, there's a purpose to them, both for the character and the reader. Josh is amazed, overwhelmed, out of control--apt descriptions of his role in the entire relationship. For us, there is a kind of voyeurism that enhances the creepy, crawly sense of Something Very Wrong about what's happening on the page.

Older teens with a liking for psychological drama and an interest in the humanity behind sensationalism will snap this up.

No comments: