Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Yay, a brand new review! Where I'm not at all working on catching up on all of the books I've read while I've been on my blogging hiatus. I bought Boy Toy at the Books of Wonder signing on Sunday. I started reading it Monday night and could hardly put it down until I finished it last night. As the blurb on the cover says, this is a disturbing book, and it should be - you can't deal with issues of teachers sexually abusing students lightly. But Lyga handles the subject deftly here.

In seventh grade, Josh Mendel had probably the hottest history teacher in school. Mrs. Sherman was young, had a killer body and, best of all, thought Josh was a genius at history and treated him like an adult, rather than a 12 year old middle schooler like everyone else did. When she asked him to help her with a project for grad school - a project that involved staying at her apartment after school - he jumped at the chance. Not just because she was hot, but she and her husband also had a huge video game collection. Heaven for a twelve year old.

Slowly, Mrs. Sherman - now Eve to Josh - began treating him more and more like an adult. Giving him sips of wine, and then making the big leap to kissing him and using him as a lover, rather than a student.

Eve and Josh carry out the illicit relationship after school for months, until it all blows up during a game of spin the bottle at the birthday party of Rachel, one of Josh's best friends. Suddenly, not only do Josh's parents find out about the affair, but the entire school - maybe the entire city knows. To Josh it doesn't matter that his name was never published in the newspaper or printed in the trial records - everyone knew who had been screwing (or was being screwed by) the hot history teacher.

Now it's Josh's senior year of high school, mere weeks from graduation. The baseball season is winding down, careening towards one final blowout game with their rivals; Josh is anxiously awaiting the results of his college applications; Rachel, who Josh almost raped at her birthday party five years ago, leading to the revelation of his relationship with Mrs. Sherman, suddenly wants to start talking to Josh again, or maybe do more than just talk.

And Mrs. Sherman is being released from prison early, less than five years into her original 15 year sentance.

Josh's life immediately begins to go into a tailspin - he's constantly afraid he's going to run into her, despite the restraining order, and he doesn't know how he'll react when he does see her. He's still convinced that everyone is watching his every move and thinking about his history with Mrs. Sherman, which stands in the way of his burgeoning relationship with Rachel. the end of senior year is turning out to be a lot more complicated than Josh ever expected it would be.

I found myself often thinking of Living Dead Girl while I was reading this - not because of any similarities but because of how differently they treat relatively similar subjects. While Living Dead Girl follows a girl who is still very much being abused, and being abused by a stranger rather than a teacher, everything about the book was very spare. In contrast, Boy Toy inundates you with details, while it's not overly graphic, there's never any question about what Eve is doing with Josh, but the details also come from seeing the relationship build from normal teacher-student to something much more sinister (and the uncomfortable feeling of following the progression knowing that something terrible is going to happen and unable to warn naive and hopeful Josh about it). Alice often comes across as being very disconnected from what's happening to her, and in a very different way Josh does as well (it takes him a long time before he's able to understand that he did not cause Mrs. Sherman to abuse him - hell, it takes him a long time to qualify it as "abuse").

The details of the relationship and the abuse come in two large info dumps in the middle of the narrative. Both are prompted by the character who is probably my least favorite - Rachel, Josh's girlfriend. I just felt incredibly angry at how she manipulated and forced Josh to divulge all of the details of the abuse and the ensuing trial - at first I was hoping it was going to be some sort of forshadowing to show this perfect girl wasn't so perfect afterall, but in retrospect it seems more like lazy storytelling: Lyga needed a way to give us this information, and he chose Rachel pestering Josh until he caved at 3 in the morning to be the instigator. Ultimately it meant that a large part of the romance in the book was lost on me because I couldn't see Josh and Rachel's relationship as a wholly positive thing.

I did, however, love the baseball that was woven throughout the book - and not just playing the game, but the statistics as well. Josh is something of a math genius, and part of that comes through in his constant thoughts about baseball stats - which really was a great way to lighten some of the heavier moments in the text.

Despite my huge problem with Rachel, I found this to be an absolutely fascinating and compelling read that I highly recommend.
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