Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book Review: Boy Toy

Title Boy Toy
Author Barry Lyga
Genre YA Literary Fiction
Rating B+

Summary Josh Mendel is trying to get through his senior year--get a baseball scholarship, figure out how to relate to girls, and figure out how to control the sexual compulsions that are a result of having been molested by his teacher in seventh grade. Oh, and did I mention that his teacher has just been released from jail?

First Line "'Lucky thirteen,' my dad said when I blew out the candles on my birthday cake, and my mom shot down his lame attempt at humor with a disgusted 'Oh, Bill!'"

Review There was so much I liked about this book and only a little bit that I didn't like (but it's a pretty major thing).

What I did like: the seduction by the teacher (which, I believe, is actually called "grooming" when it comes to child molestation) scenes are done really tastefully and are told from Josh's POV and are so eye-opening. That sounds weird to say, and you might think, 'Why would you want to have your eyes opened to that?' And I guess the reason I found this book so fabulous is that every year I volunteer at a camp for kids who are in the CPS system because they've been abused (physically or sexually) or neglected. It's reality, but everyone likes to pretend it doesn't happen. But I think books like this, that show how it can happen even in white middle-class America, and the effects it has on kids, can help open the discussion up so that we can start to really address the underlying issues and start to move toward solutions.

Lyga thanks a number of people at the back of the book in the acknowledgements section, but I didn't see anyone who gave him insights into the psychological profile of sexually abused kids. I don't know if he did a lot of reading, or how he did it, but Josh's confusion and misinterpretations and latent manifestations of the misplaced shame and guilt were so poignant. Very well done.

What I didn't like: The resolution of the student/teacher situation. Most notably I didn't like how it happened, or more specifically, where it happened. The situation was just so unbelievable. And everything else up to that point (up to page 392 of 410) was so believable and well done that it just left a sour taste at an otherwise exceptionally well written book.

This book isn't funny or exciting or even easy to read. But it's good and worth your time. Sure, most teens who might pick up this book are past the point where they might be prime targets for predators, but this book is fantastic reading material for parents of young children and tweens. I don't mean this to be all, "Lock up your children!" because it's more than that. It's about abuse and its effects (there are long-term effects to all forms of abuse) and it shows what life after abuse is like for the victim (and a small glimpse at the life of the predator).

I don't know that this is the best book I've ever read from a literary stand-point (okay, I know it isn't... the dialogue was really lacking in some parts), but the way the subject matter is handled earned this a good grade in my book.

Recommendation Anyone who doesn't want to have their head stuck in the sand.

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