I’m going to come right out and say it: this book is a mind fuck.
Yes, I did drop the f-bomb in the very first sentence of my book review, but that’s the best way I can think of to describe Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy.
First off, here’s a description of the book. Josh Mendel, a high school senior, meets up with Rachel, a girl he thought he lost shortly after his thirteenth birthday. To make a long story short, he was found in the closet with her, ripping off her panties while playing a party game that was half “Spin the Bottle” and half “Seven Minutes in Heaven”. As if that wasn’t bad enough, just when Rachel’s family was about to press charges, he accidentally mentions that he’s been screwing around with his seventh-grade history teacher for the past year. Josh has lived through therapy, lawsuits, and baseball coaches dumb enough to crack jokes about this situation, but he still can’t put everything behind him, not even when Rachel’s dying to get back together with him after being alone for five years.
One of the first questions I had about Boy Toy was “How do you write a book about something like this”? After all, not many people can say they’ve had first-hand experience with child molesters, and the local papers can only tell you so much. Also, in this sort of situation, people only see two types: the big, bad, sex-fiend, and the pure and innocent victim. The roles seem incredibly flat, and many authors want multi-dimensional characters. The reader will also be wondering what the book is about; is it a textbook on how to avoid molestation, or a sermon against underage sex, or perhaps even the memoirs of a sexual predator.
The story Boy Toy is simply that, a story. In fact, if you take out the underage sex factor, this novel is nothing more than a coming-of-age story like the dozens of others you find in the teen section of bookstores or libraries. It’s actually a relief because it makes the book approachable, instead of some form of holy item that only the worthy can touch. Josh’s life isn’t that different from any other teenager’s: he gets nervous around girls, he’s a member of the baseball team, and he can and will play on the Xbox for hours if you let him. The sex scandal with his teacher, Eve Sherman, makes the novel more interesting without overpowering the real story.
Barry Lyga is already treading into dangerous territory by writing a teen book about sex, but even in doing that he doesn’t stay on the safe side. He cusses in the story (the word “fuck” is included in the story a few times, hence I’m comfortable with using it in a review) his character gets wet dreams, and of course, his characters do the deed. Lyga’s writing is not so explicit as to be called porn but just enough so you figure out what everyone is doing. Even so, there’s the handy line on the back cover “Ages 16 and up” to prevent torch wielding mobs from burning down Houghton Mifflin’s offices.
Finally, this book forces you to think about a dozen different issues. Not only do you read the thoughts of Josh the high-school senior, you also see what went through his twelve-year-old head when he was with Eve, along with all the other characters putting in their two bits about the experience. When you finally think you have an opinion about the scandal, you’re forced to rethink it because Josh changes his mind many times over throughout the course of the story. It’s not just the sex scandal that has you confused either. During and after, the reader will be asking him or herself, “What is love? What is maturity? How do you define being mature? Who was Cal Ripken anyway?” You’re taken for a ride as everything you thought you believed is chewed up and spit back onto a bubble gum wrapper, and you don’t mind one bit.
Suffice it to say, I enjoyed this book. People can be absorbed by a good book so that they can’t stop talking about it, but few have ever been haunted by a book. Boy Toy was my literary poltergeist for the past few days, and it refused to leave me alone until I sat down for a few hours and finally finished it. There didn’t seem to be any spelling errors and the language was fluid and clear, but it all could’ve been in pig Latin for all I would have noticed. I’m not sure when or even if I’ll be haunted by another book, but if it ever occurs again, I’ll instantly think of Boy Toy.
After all, they say you never forget your first time.