Saturday, June 27, 2009

Boy Toy--Barry Lyga (book review)

I wasn't going to read Boy Toy. In fact, I suggested that Barry Lyga not send it to me at all, but wait and send it directly to the winner of the giveaway so as to save me a trip to the dreaded post office. And when it arrived in the mail, I still had no intention of reading it. Just, maybe the Prologue. You know, to see what it was about.

Or, just the first chapter. . . or, well, maybe two. Two chapters, tops.

You know how this ends, right? Like that Alka-Seltzer commercial from the seventies: I can't believe I ate the whole thing. Except, I didn't eat it. It was a signed copy, after all.

The basic gist: 18-year-old Josh hasn't seen his 7th grade teacher, Eve, since the trial that sent her to prison after she initiated a sexual relationship with him when he was 13. Now she's out of prison and Josh finds himself finally dealing with emotions and guilt that he'd been burying for five years.

We see the story through three filters: 13-year-old Josh's in the flashbacks, 18-year-old Josh's as he narrates the story, and the reader-filter that allows us to understand things in a way that neither version of Josh is able to see. This balance is crucial, because neither of Josh's perspectives are what an adult would call "true," and yet they are what makes the story believable.

I'm not explaining this very well. Let me find an example.

Here's a flashback to the early parts of Josh's relationship with his teacher, when she first started having him over to her apartment after school. She always had a glass of wine after school, and this was the first time he had accepted her offer to try a sip.
She looked serious all of a sudden. "But really, Josh--you can't tell your parents I let you do this, OK? I could get in a lot of trouble."

Over a little sip of wine? Puh-lease. But whatever--I wasn't going to tell my parents anyway. "Don't worry about it."
(Boy Toy, Barry Lyga, p. 150)
So we get the 13-year-old voice ("puh-lease"), the 18-year-old memory ("I wasn't going to tell my parents anyway") and we view this scene with knowledge that Josh hasn't internalized: that this woman was grooming him, the way sexual predators do, easing him into keeping secrets from his parents.

The bulk of the story isn't about what happened when Josh was 13, though, it's about what happens when he's 18, mentally preparing himself for college away from home and figuring out the kind of adult he wants to be. It also goes into fairly explicit sexual details, so, while the voice and the story will appeal to teens, I consider it to be an adult novel (knowing that teens are perfectly capable of reading and appreciating adult novels, including this one).

Would you like to have my signed copy of Boy Toy? Drawing will be June 30. (It was July 1, but I want to mail it out on the 2nd so I've decided to do the drawing on the 30th)

The Soundtrack: I nearly rejected Salt n Pepa's Boy Toy, because although it shares a title with the book, I can hardly bear to listen to it. But then I read this deleted scene on Barry's website, on which he says Josh has terrible taste in music. It seems fitting to choose a song I wouldn't listen to if I found it on Josh's Ipod.

Publication Info: 2007, Houghton Mifflin. Available in hardcover and paperback.


  1. Nice review. The three filters are interesting. Just from the example I can see how well they work together.

  2. Okay, this sounds great. Even if I don't win the autographed copy (fingers crossed!) I'll definitely go out and find one.

  3. Very interesting. I love your extremely insightful reviews - you add so much of yourself and how you think and yet with so few words.

  4. Thanks Krista, Jessi, and Care. :-) (Care, I probably delete more words than end up in the review, to get to that "so few words" point!)

  5. What an awesome book! I'd love to read this one.