Thursday, July 17, 2008

Boy Toy

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
5Q 3P Audience: S

I usually try to come up with something a little quirky or at least more interesting than "title of book" for my subject lines. But I can't do that with this book. Boy Toy is too disturbing to treat it lightly. It was a hard book to read, not because of how it was written, but because of its subject matter. At times, I almost didn't want to pick it back up again, because it was so hard to read about Josh's experiences. But it is also a compelling read. You don't finish Boy Toy, close the cover, and grab the next book on your pile. You need time to decompress afterwards.

The topic, sexual situations, and language mark Boy Toy as a book for older teens. Lyga isn't coy about his topic. Though the writing is not explicit, it is abundantly clear exactly what Eve is doing to Josh. I was uncomfortable reading certain passages, as I think most readers will be. (It should be uncomfortable to read about sexual abuse.) Boy Toy is well written, thought provoking, and deeply unsettling. It deserves its place on ALA's BBYA 2008 list and its Cybil Award. But readers should know going in that it's also a book that will evoke strong reactions.

When Josh walks into his seventh grade history class, his instant reaction is that his teacher is HOT. He fantasizes about Mrs. Sherman in all the ways a twelve-year-old boy knows how to fantasize. But he is in no way prepared for what happens next. When Mrs. Sherman asks him to be a part of a study she is doing for one of her graduate classes, he doesn't realize where she intends it to lead. He just likes the idea, since it means they'll spend a lot of time alone together. At first, they work in the classroom after school, but soon they begin to work at Miss Sherman's house. It's cool. She has an X-box, a Playstation, and every kind of video game a twelve-year-old could ever want. He gets to spend time with a beautiful woman who treats him like an adult and play otherwise forbidden video games. Paradise must be like this. In fact, Mrs. Sherman's apartment becomes their own little Garden of Eden, right down to Mrs. Sherman becoming Eve. Ever so slowly, Eve lures him ever closer to tasting the forbidden fruit. First she offers him sips of wine and then she teaches him how to kiss. And then...then she gives Josh the whole apple, and nothing is ever going to be the same for him again.

Lyga deftly shows how this relationship affects every aspect of Josh's life. It affects his parents' marriage, his friendship with Zik (his best friend), and makes it absolutely impossible for him to have a normal relationship with girls his own age. But Lyga goes deeper than even that. Josh knows what happened to him. But nothing about it is as cut and dried for him as it seems to be for everyone else. After all, that apple was delicious. If he enjoyed eating the fruit, if he wanted to eat it, should Eve be blamed for giving it to him? Adding that question to the mix adds an even deeper layer to this book.

The only thing I'll quote from this book is a passage on forgiveness, because I thought it would be interesting to compare it to the forgiveness quote from Deb Caletti's The Fortune of Indigo Skye:
See, forgiveness doesn't happen all at once. It's not an event -- it's a process. Forgiveness happens while you're asleep, while you're dreaming, while you're inline at the coffee shop, while you're showering, eating, farting, jerking off. It happens in the back of your mind, and then one day you realize that you don't hate the person anymore, that your anger has gone away somewhere. And you understand. You've forgiven them. You don't know how or why. It sneaked up on you. It happened in the small spaces between thoughts and in the seconds between ideas and blinks. That's where forgiveness happens. Because anger and hatred, when left unfed, bleed away like air from a punctured tire, over time and days and years. Forgiveness is stealth. At least, that's what I hope.

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