Based on the cover title, some of you might think Boy Toy lacks substance. I mean, what can you expect with a title like that, not to mention the curvaceous figure of the woman? Well, you’ve got it all wrong because Boy Toy by Barry Lyga is 409 pages of literary YA…yes, “literary.” The boy toy in question is actually a boy (rather than some flirtatious girl who seeks the wrong kind of attention), and the conflict faced by this boy is more of the disturbing kind--the kind you hear about on the news.
At the age of 12, the life of Josh Mendel shatters innocently like a shard of ice pricked into flesh. Josh learns how to please a woman, but to put it that way it seems something pleasantly memorable. And, in a way, this is true. Josh truly is in lust (even though he calls it love) with his 6th grade teacher, Eve Sherman, but his teacher is a pedophile. What she teaches him turns his life upside down when he put her lessons to use on his best friend, Rachel, during a game of spin-the-bottle. Then comes the whole media exposure and lurid details of the teacher-student affair, the numerous failed dates and relationships, and of course the psychological impact.
Josh continually deals with what he calls flickers. These are moments of past meeting the present--the flickers he hears at any given moment, the flickers of sexuality, the flickers of the boyhood adoration of his mother, the flickers that merge his tormentor and his girlfriend, the flickers that distort his reality, and the flickers that externalize his inner conflict, his anguish, and his fear on the page. On top of all this is the aggression he feels towards the world, especially authority figures and the compulsion he has to be perfect in school work and in baseball. He is an unmatched player at both. And, then there are the transcripts of his sessions with the psychologist through which you, as the reader, may also act as the psychoanalyst.
So, what makes it "literary?" The delivery of the flickers, the presentation of Josh's mind, and the non-linearity of the plot. As for the flickers, they come at any moment and distort his reality:
“Just then—it’s really embarrassing—I flicker
-slide my hand up her skirt—
And come back to the present. Weird. That was Rachel, in the flicker.”
(As opposed to the molestor, Eve)
Some of the most effective moments come from the passages relating to baseball, math, and science. This is where you can see a glimpse of his drives and motivations and his need for precision. To Josh, baseball is a mathematical equation but not his true passion as some might think; baseball is more of test of will for him, but math and science have the potential of much more greatness, at least to him. And, in a way, his views of the universe are the same views he needs to move his own life forward:
“I love the stars. Love them for how they are almost as much as for what they are. Stars are just mathematical equations, when you get right down to it. Precise ratios of helium and hydrogen, heated and lit just the right way, all of it balanced and perfect for billions of years as they slowly churn their way toward iron, toward entropy. Space is one big mathematical constuct. It’s just figuring out gravity and electromanetism and thrust and lift and BOOM you’re off the earth…”
Boy Toy is extremely well written and reflects the psychological impact of sexual abuse through its effective non-linearity, meaning that the present is sliced up by his flickers, and the story is told from different points of time, from a moment after his 13th birthday to his present situation as an 18 year old high school senior, back to the beginning of the affair and then back to the presen.t As he puts it, “the ending began and the beginning ended.” And, yes there is a love story. To me…that makes it even better:
“She kisses me again and something happens. Something I never expected to happen. I close my eyes and lean into the kiss and I slide my hands up her arms until I’m surrounding her, holding her, hugging her to me. Her arms slip around me and we’re clenched tightly together, kissing.”
Want to read more of Barry Lyga? Read The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. (a book I highly recommend--especially if you want to read a novel that deals with the world of graphic novesl)...then read the sequel Goth Girl Rising coming out this fall. I definitely will.