Sunday, February 17, 2008
Houghton Mifflin, 2007
Boy Toy has to be one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. It begins with a list of things “Ten Things I Learned at the Age of Twelve.” Number 1 is “The Black Plague was transmitted by fleas that were carried throughout Europe by rats.” Number 10 is “How to please a woman.” When Josh was in seventh grade he was molested by his beautiful, alluring history teacher. Eventually his parents realize what’s going on (it takes a traumatic event with one of Josh’s best friends), Mrs. Sherman is arrested and placed in prison. Josh’s life is never the same as before. He cannot get over the guilt of being the reason Eve (Mrs. Sherman) is in prison. He is quick to anger – often getting into fights – and except for his best friend Zik, he has isolated himself. Everyone knows what has happened to him, and his one desire is to graduate and get as far away from his hometown as possible. His one true love is baseball, but he is also a talented student who has never made less than an A in any class since third grade. To make things more complicated, Eve is now going to be released on parole. Josh goes nowhere without worrying about bumping in to her.
This is a story told largely in a series of flashbacks back to Josh’s seventh grade year when the abuse happened. Josh’s life is complicated not just by Eve, but also by his parents, whose relationship with each other is simply rotten. One of Josh’s problems is figuring out exactly what real love is, and he doesn’t have many examples from which to draw. In the end, he confronts Eve and is able to get some closure from the events that have so damaged him.
Although I read this book in one night (because I could not put it down), it really made me uncomfortable. I’ll take that as a good thing – no one should “enjoy” reading a book about molestation. Although Lyga targets a type of abuse that has been highlighted often in the papers these past few years, I think the emotions and guilt experience by Josh are pretty common for most people who have been sexually abused (not just by teachers). This is one of many strong points Boy Toy had. I also loved Josh’s relationship with Rachel (a girl who had been one of his best friends before the abuse and who is now interested in a romantic relationship if only Josh would allow it). Rachel is wonderful about understanding Josh and all of his problems. Lyga’s portrayal of Eve is also not one-dimensional. While Eve is most definitely the villain in the book, she is also quite damaged and, in the end, remorseful over her actions.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak did a masterful job of showing the horrors of rape; Boy Toy does the same with child molestation. I know this will be a book that many of my teachers will read and discuss.