Boy Toy and a Contest

This week we have something super special for you. We're going to talk about an incredible book and then we're going to give away an autographed copy of the book, courtesy of the author. YA author Barry Lyga has very kindly donated a copy of his novel Boy Toy and I'll be forwarding it to one lucky reader. I'd been planning to read this novel for some time as it's a story that seems to draw more than its fair share of censorship attempts and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about, so the timing on Mr. Lyga's offer was perfect.

Josh is a senior in high school. He excels at both math and baseball and is trying to decide which college he'll attend; one that will have more of an emphasis on athletics or one that lets him push the limits of his brain power. This might be enough to keep any teen busy but he's got a whole lot more on his plate. Five years ago, when he was twelve, Josh was involved in a crime and to this day he's not sure what his place was in that crime. Was he a victim? Did he instigate it? Did anything bad actually happen? Because of the sensational nature of the offense everyone in town knows what happened and he is convinced that people think and talk about it everywhere he goes.

Josh is also struggling with the aftermath of an incident that launched the investigation; an incident that caused the loss of a dear friend, a girl called Rachel who had been friends with him since he was very young. She is just as involved with ball playing as he is, although she has recently focused on softball instead of baseball. Five years ago Josh and Rachel went into a closet to make out during a party and when the dust settled everyone knew that something sexual had happened between Josh, who was twelve, and his middle school teacher. Josh's reaction to Rachel was so strong that the whole dirty secret came out as their parents tried to make sense of his actions.

Now his teacher is in jail, he's wracked with uncomfortable emotions and far too many flashbacks (which he calls flickers) and he still hasn’t sorted things out with Rachel. As the book begins he punches his coach, discovers his ex-teacher is getting out of prison early, and runs into Rachel for the first time in years. It's enough to give him a panic attack and make my heart break.

It seems to me that the basic nature of the crime in this story should be pretty cut and dried. Adult in position of authority has sex with a child. To me it's obvious that the adult is in fact a criminal and the child is a victim. When the child is a girl public response usually agrees with me. But when the victim is a boy there are all sorts of inappropriate responses, usually from other males who say they wish they'd had a teacher like that. From now on, whenever I encounter someone who makes such a ridiculous comment I'll hand them a copy of Boy Toy.

There are a lot of metaphors for the after affects of a life changing event. Living under a cloud, haunted, tainted, etc. Marley's ghost tells Scrooge we wear the chains we forged in life and I think there's a great deal of truth in this. When something shocking happens that is very much in the public eye it’s like the old you is killed and chained to you and the new you has to drag the corpse of the old you around everywhere you go. When you talk to anyone at all you know in your heart that at least a part of their attention is on the corpse, not the new you. You can't possibly "get on with your life" so long as this tattered and stinking thing is always with you.

Being metaphorically chained to someone dead is hard enough but Josh's burden is even heavier. He's afraid his corpse is a zombie that will rage to life and attack any girl that Josh dates or touches or tries to kiss. An out of control monster that will destroy whatever remains of his life and everyone will think it's his fault. It takes a delicate touch to write about this subject without being preachy or crude. Mr. Lyga has that touch, walking the fine line with nary a waver that I could detect. He wrote Josh as a troubled teen who still manages to be endearing and gains our sympathy without appearing pitiful.

Boy Toy has had many attempts to censor or ban it. I've seen some crazy responses to it, including someone who responded to a protest about another book, which we’ll call Book X, being banned by saying that Book X was fine and Boy Toy, which hadn't been mentioned at all, should be banned. I guess the frank language and difficult subject matter scare some folks so much they think nobody should have access to this book. I am firmly in the opposite camp. I think that not only should it be widely available but that there are scads of people who would feel less alone and more understood by reading it. It's sad to think that someone who has been in a similar situation may not be able to read Boy Toy because someone else, who doesn't know them, has decided it shouldn't be read.

With that said we come to our contest. Barry Lyga has donated a copy of Boy Toy, which I will give away to one person who comments. I was thinking it might be interesting to talk about a book that changed the way you think, made you look at things in a different way, or made you feel like maybe you weren't a freak who would never fit in. I've read plenty of books that fit into the last category and I'm always excited when I discover them. You can either register a username or comment anonymously, whichever suits you best.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Lucky Lucy, who says "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here was crazy. I never saw so many animals smashed and eaten in my entire life. Where was the SPCA? I'm surprised they didn't eat a monkey brain." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.