Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
Holy cow. Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy absolutely blew me away. Some people may find it an uncomfortable read because of its subject matter and explicit detail, but I thought it was totally worth it.
So, the subject matter: When Josh was thirteen, he nearly assaulted a girl in a closet during a game of spin the bottle. And that’s when the truth began to emerge.
Five years later, Josh is a senior in high school, a baseball player who thinks of baseball as an individual sport. He’s gotten into numerous fights, sees a psychiatrist, gets straight A’s, is hoping to get into his Holy Trinity of colleges (Stanford, Yale, and MIT), and is perfectly aware that everyone knows he is the kid who had a sexual affair with his history teacher back when he was in seventh grade.
The events of seventh grade are told via two lengthy flashbacks that pretty much comprise half the novel, and this structure is part of the reason Boy Toy is so compelling. The flashbacks span the entire affair, beginning even before Josh meets Eve, his history teacher. And Lyga does not shy away from messy, uncomfortable truths. We see Josh’s infatuation with Eve, the excitement, the lies he starts to tell because he wants to be with her, needs to be with her. Likewise the escalation of the affair, from the first time they’re alone together to first kiss to intercourse to the aftermath.
In a way, it feels odd to say Boy Toy is most appropriate for older teens because of the explicit sexual content when Josh was twelve when the encounters took place. But then, Boy Toy is more about the effects of sexual abuse than the act itself. Josh was damaged by Eve, and it shows in his interactions with others. He doesn’t trust other people and he doesn’t trust himself. And Lyga’s prose, realistic and straightforward, makes the story that much more believable. The subject matter, sexual content, and the intensity of the story means Boy Toy is not the right book for everyone. But if this doesn’t bother you, or you’re willing to take a chance, or for anyone looking for an honest, well-written, occasionally heartwrenching story, I can’t recommend Boy Toy highly enough.
ETA: When I read the book a second time, I was surprised to see that it was not as explicit as I had remembered. Suggestive would be a better word, and I think it’s a testament to Lyga’s writing that he was able to suggest so much with just a few words.