Boy Toy -- Barry Lyga

Wow.  I've been telling everyone and anyone about this one for the last couple of days.

Boy_toy_2As I mentioned earlier, I was hooked from Chapter One, Paragraph One:

Coach Kaltenbach shouldn't have said it.  He shouldn't have opened his big, fat, stupid mouth.  Because if he hadn't said it, then I wouldn't have heard it.  And I wouldn't have hit him so hard that his head left a dent on the lowest bleacher when he collapsed.

Two chapters later, we find out what Kaltenbach said:

"Pick it up, Mendel!  You never slept with me, so I ain't about to take it easy on you!"

Yeah.

With only six weeks to go before he graduates high school and (hopefully) leaves Brookdale forever, Josh Mendel learns that his seventh-grade history teacher is about to be released from prison, having served less than a third of her fifteen-year sentence.  She's been in prison since pleading guilty to engaging "in sexual activity with a minor male".

Just after his thirteenth birthday, the relationship was revealed after a disastrous game of Spin the Bottle.  Due to that incident, though none of the newspaper articles ever mentioned his name, everyone in town knew that Josh Mendel was the minor male in question.  And then the details revealed during the trial were leaked and posted on the Internet -- as far as Josh knows, his peers, his teachers, the bag boys at the grocery store, everyone knows exactly what happened between him and Eve Sherman.

I'll be surprised if people don't challenge the crap out of Boy Toy.  Which is unfortunate, because it's a good book, and a brave one.  Barry Lyga writes frankly and honestly about Josh's conflicting emotions and thoughts, about his rage and his guilt and his shame, while still creating a novel that is readable and entertaining, and yes, even funny.

To continue my praise:  Josh is believable, likable, complicated and not always right about everything, the pacing is good, the secondary characters (including Eve) are well-drawn, the relationships, history and interactions between the characters are complex, and it's a compelling read.  It's also an intense read -- Eve's manipulation of Josh made me feel literally nauseous.  Yes, there's plenty (ple-he-henty) of sex, sexual thoughts, lust, etc., etc., but it's the manipulation that'll really get you. 

Though there is, as I said, plenty of sex, some of it graphic, I never felt that it was gratuitous.  It's there for a reason: it's an important aspect of the story, it's an important part of Josh's history and it's a big part of Why He's At Where He's At, mentally and emotionally.

A major thing I want to be sure to mention: The Josh/Eve relationship is not romanticized.  The adult female/young male student abuse situation does sometimes get romanticized in the media* (as opposed to the adult male/young female student, which gets romanticized in romance novels).  That doesn't happen here.  The characters sometimes romanticize it, but Barry Lyga?  Never.

Excellent read.  Skews towards the older (or more mature) end of YA, with a lot of sex, profanity, and concerns about getting into (and paying for) college.  Recommended to fans of YA realistic fiction, and to those who like reading books that Deal with Issues.

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*Just watch for the Letourneau updates that hit People Magazine every so often.

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