Friday, April 10, 2009

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

When Josh was in seventh grade, a new, young (24), attractive teacher--Evelyn "Eve" Sherman--came to his middle school to teach history. In no time, Eve told his parents that because Josh was exceptionally bright, she would like to use him as a test subject for a grad school project. This worked perfectly with his parents, as his mom had just started a new job and was looking for ways to occupy Josh's afternoon so he wouldn't be too lonely at home.

In the beginning, Josh took some tests for her after school and afterward she'd drop him off at home. Then, gradually, they began going to her apartment. Long after her project was done, she'd keep bringing him back so he could play on her husband's Xbox and they could hang out--under the pretense that he was helping her grade sixth grade papers. One thing leads to another, and... And eventually it gets out.

It's now five years later. And Eve's being released from jail.

I actually had no idea this was a novel about teacher/student relationships until well into it when I realized that attractive young thing of a teacher of his was actually a cradle robber. And I'll tell you what, before it all began (even as I knew what would happen) I kind of liked Eve. She would be my favorite teacher if I were still twelve because she exudes this down-to-earth attitude and acts like she's a friend and not an authority figure. Which I guess is sort of the point for her...business, and that's scary and creepy and all things bad, but there you have it. This is the first thing I could think of to compliment this book on: its portray of the characters as people, good, bad and ugly.

What I mean is, it's not allegorical, there are no "roles", and it's not glorified, dramatized, or romanticized in any way. Eve's not the Devil reincarnated even when we see her out of prison, when it's clear through Josh's first person narration that what she did was wrong. Josh is not a saint and he's not given special treatment on the part of the author just because he's a victim. The shrink isn't all sputtering psychobabble to the point of choking on it. And so on.

It's kind of key in telling stories, especially ones like this, I think, the giving people strong personalities with many facets. It worked well.

Also, the way in which the story unfolds is clever and hard-to-pull-off because of an reliance on extensive back story. I thought the format fit the story well, and what's more, was well done. See, we're in real time, five years after the whole thing took place, and in that time Josh hasn't talked about it to anyone but his shrink. Then he gets involved in a rekindling with a childhood friend, Rachel, and he tells her (because of special circumstances). So anyway, this means a lot of chapters set in the past.

Which could get boring and slow things down but it so doesn't.

Above all, however, I loved the language. I loved the way this was written. I took issue with Rachel sometimes, which is pretty bad for being the love interest, but I just fell in intense, mad infatuation with how Barry Lyga told the story. This 2007 Cybil winner is a combination of stream-of-thought one-liners, a fluent narrative, one hell or a voice, and a whole lot of talent. A-

Houghton Mifflin | 416 pages | September 24th, 2007 | Barry's website | GoodReads | Amazon

19 comments:

Iryna said...

Sounds like an interesting novel. I would expect a book like this to be kind of . . . disturbing but because of your review, I might take this book out.

Khy said...

LOVE THIS BOOK. <3

Lenore said...

Wow - her husband has an Xboy? That's kinda creepy!

Steph said...

Screw you, L. :P

Lenore said...

:) Happy to help!

Beth F said...

Wow! Awesome review. I think I'd be creeped out by the cradle robbing part -- but maybe because I'm older. Still, I'm thinking I may have to read this.

towerofbooks said...

I NEED to read this book. It has been on my wish list for too long.

Taren said...

I keep seeing/reading about these kinds of books everywhere. I guess a lot of authors are finding inspiration in the news.

Jen said...

The plot sounds totally creepy, but if its well written then I might like to read it ^_^

Great review

Amee said...

Interesting that it's not told as some weird, glorified love story between teacher and student. She's a pedophile and it's not glossed over (at least that's what it sounds like with your review). I still think it's just a little too creepy for me to want to read though. I just don't get these books that take on the issues of sexual abuse. So unappealing to me as a reader.

Vasilly said...

It's sounds like it's an interesting read but I don't know if I can read it. I've read so many great reviews about this book too.

the epic rat said...

Wow, would never have guessed what this book would be about if I hadn't read your review! Interesting that you liked Eve until you caught onto her game... I don't know if I want to read this or not.

RR2 said...

I LOVE this book!

Reader Rabbit said...

Okay. So maybe RR2 is not delusional and I should actually pick this one up :)


Thanks for the great review!

Readingjunky said...

I agree - this one was well done.

Jennifer Banash said...

I have been talking about how great this book is for the last YEAR. Glad to see that, finally, somebody found out for themselves what a kick ass storyteller Barry Lyga is.

dogearedandwellread said...

I've had this on my to-read shelf for a while. Your review makes me want to push it to the top!

Book Spot said...

I really wish my library would get this book back (one has it overdue for 11 months, the other for 16?). Glad to see your review, though...and I need to find more time on computers with IE7+ to comment on your blog, too :)

Trisha said...

Completely agree about how the story unfolds, the way the backstory is told. The structure is part of what makes the book so brilliant. I mean, we see how, well, damaged Josh is as an eighteen-year-old, and then we find out how he ended up that way. And it makes everything so much more upsetting.

Also, to go along with the point about characterizations and Josh's narrative...

warning! potential spoilers!

...how because of, or in spite of, the story being told from Josh's POV, we can see both how Josh thinks he was the person in control AND yet it is so clear that Eve is manipulating him? Also brilliant.

/spoilers

This seriously is one of those books I could spend hours talking about, but I'll shut up for now. Um, except to say that although this is a disturbing read (as it should be, considering the subject matter, right?) and it won't be the right book for everyone, I found it so worth reading.

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