Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway‘s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.
Today’s Topic: What is the best book you read in November?
Well, I’m happy to say that October’s stretch of mostly not-good books was only a fluke. November saw many awesome books, thanks in big part to my lovely CP, Heather Howland, who sent me a box of some of her favorites. Those included: Sing Me to Sleep by Angela Morrison (poignant and romantic), Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (realistic and reflective), Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols(fast-paced and steamy) and What Would Emma Do? by Eileen Cook (one of the greatest teen voices *ever*!). I also purchased and read Dirty Little Secrets by CJ Omolulu (so fascinating) and The Mockingbirds, by Daisy Whitney (important and multi-layered).
But my favorite book of November was Boy Toy, one I purchased and few months ago, then subsequently passed over time and time again in favor of some of the more hyped books sitting on the shelf around it. I SO regret not reading it earlier and, to settle the score, I’m going to take a stab at hyping Boy Toy, by Barry Lyga.
From Goodreads: A riveting and disturbing novel about a seventh-grade boy who has a very adult relationship with his female teacher. Josh Mendel has a secret. Unfortunately, everyone knows what it is. Five years ago, Josh’s life changed. Drastically. And everyone in his school, his town-seems like the world-thinks they understand. But they don’t-they can’t. And now, about to graduate from high school, Josh is still trying to sort through the pieces. First there’s Rachel, the girl he thought he’d lost years ago. She’s back, and she’s determined to be part of his life, whether he wants her there or not. Then there are college decisions to make, and the toughest baseball game of his life coming up, and a coach who won’t stop pushing Josh all the way to the brink. And then there’s Eve. Her return brings with it all the memories of Josh’s past. It’s time for Josh to face the truth about what happened. If only he know what the truth was…
Let me start by saying, I got the same feeling upon reading Boy Toy that I got when I finished reading John Greene’s Looking For Alaska and Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere. The three are extremely different books, but all three are unflinching in their realism and their portrayal of very difficult teen situations. All three authors manage to say what needs to be said, even if it’s ugly or uncomfortable, and they do it in voices that have stuck with me.
Boy Toy is the story of a now eighteen-year-old high school senior who was sexually abused five years earlier by his teacher, Evelyn Sherman. Over the years, I’ve seen real-life stories similar to the one written by Lyga on the news, and interestingly enough, focus always seems to be more on the abuser. What was she thinking? Just how sick is she? How much jail time does she deserve? I rarely see much said about the victims, the innocent minors whose lives are changed forever. Boy Toy focuses on one such victim and shows with unwavering realism just how disrupted his life has become.
Boy Toy‘s characters are fabulous, and the main reason I loved this book so much. Josh, our protagonist, is something of a child prodigy and a very talented baseball player. He’s also the self-described school pariah, thanks to the lengthy and highly inappropriate “relationship” he had with his seventh grade history teacher. Five years later, (just as Mrs. Sherman is being released from jail for “good behavior”), Josh is still confused, totally scarred by what happened. He’s traumatized, harboring misplaced guilt, and unable to foster any kind of normal, healthy relationship with girls his own age. Thankfully he has, Zic, an awesome and incredibly loyal best friend, who often serves as comic relief. Then there’s Rachel, childhood friend and the proverbial “one that got away.” She’s suddenly back in the picture and intent on challenging Josh every step of the way.
I’ll be honest: Boy Toy made me squirm more than once, and rightly so. The subject matter is intense and unsettling. There are several scenes of fairly graphic abuse that very nearly upset my stomach. We’re in Josh’s head the whole time and he certainly thinks like an eighteen-year-old guy. The language is sometimes harsh, but to me it felt honest and completely in character. That being said, Boy Toy is for those who prefer upper YA. There’s no censoring here, and that’s my biggest compliment to this book.