I read Boy Toy yesterday and can't think about anything else. It moved me so much, that I was almost in tears by the end, and it doesn't happen often. It's a deeply unsettling book, both for the subject matter and for it being a bit too graphic for comfort in some parts.
Josh Mendel is a senior who lives in Brookdale, Maryland. As a seventh-grader, he was molested by his history teacher, Mrs Sherman. Their relationship was discovered after Josh sexually attacked his best female friend, Rachel, at her 13th birthday party. The case went to court and the teacher was sentenced to jail, while Josh went into therapy.
Now Josh is eighteen and Mrs Sherman is being released from jail. He is still deeply affected from what happened to him: he thinks everyone is always staring at him and remembering what happened; avoids even looking at Rachel; doesn't feel comfortable on dates with girls. His main wish is to go to college and leave his hometown behind, preferably with a baseball scholaship, as he's a talented player.
When he stumbles on Rachel one day, she challenges him to bat on her pitches (she's a very good player, too). If he can hit the ball, she won't bother him anymore. But if she strikes him out, he'll have to tell her everything that happened with Mrs Sherman. And unexpectedly, Rachel does strike Josh out.
I felt for Josh so much in this book. He's a math genius - walks around calculating all these different baseball averages in his head - and the best baseball player in the school. He's had a lot on his plate, with being molested, and them becoming violent. What made my heart squeeze, however, is that in spite of being told he was molested, he thinks the whole affair with his teacher was his own fault. He thinks he initiated it, having a crush on the beautiful young woman in the first place.
Throughout the whole novel, I wondered why a grown woman of 24 would ever approach a 12-year-old boy sexually. It's such a young age, boys are still practically children. In Doing It by Melvin Burgess, one of the boys has an affair with his teacher, but he's 16, and many boys have sex at that age, so in some way it's easier for me to imagine it. Still wrong, of course, for a teacher to seduce their student. But while I can imagine it happening with a 16-year-old, I feel very uncomfortable with a twelve-year-old boy having sex. The feeling grows when Josh seeks out Mrs Sherman again near the end of the book, and she explains how she singled him out the first time she met him in the classroom.
I also liked Rachel a lot. She has guts and a very kind heart. She was Josh's best female friend before the whole incident with his teacher came out. Her coming on to him brought the whole issue to surface. He spends five years avoiding her, even if she's best friends with his best friend's girlfriend. He thinks he almost raped her and feels guilty. But she remembers things differently: she says she liked him a lot, and wanted him to approach her. I found it incredibly touching that she still loved Josh after all that happened. She knew it wasn't his fault. Probably everyone but Josh knew it wasn't his fault.
Baseball plays a big role in the book. Both Josh and Rachel are big players and fans of the sport; Josh hopes for a baseball scholarship; and various baseball facts and figures are scattered through the whole novel. I must say I've never been able to understand much of the game or its rules. And I watched the Touch anime more than once. So I didn't really know what Josh was talking about as he considered when to hit aball pitched at him, when to foul, when to miss, etc., or when he calculated his average batting scores. I do know that the aim of the game is to have the players run around the bases (thus the metaphors, scoring first/second/third base or a homerun), and I know what a strikeout is. That's the bare minimum you need to know in order to understand the book. It held my interest until the end, even though I didn't know anything about baseball.
This is a deeply moving book. I loved it. It might be difficult to stomach, especially if you have children around Josh's age when he was molested. Some descriptions are slightly too graphic to be ignored. I'd recommend it to older teens.
You can also find interesting deleted scenes and subplots that were cut from the final copy at Barry Lyga's website: Boy Toy deleted scenes.Cover attraction:
I like the paperback cover more. I wonder at the apple, though. It reminds me of the cover for another YA book about a relationship between a teacher and a student, Bad Apple by Laura Ruby. Well, that was different because there was no unappropraite relationship in the first place, but the cover still had an apple on it (partly because of the title, I guess). I wonder if the apple is a symbol for temptation? Anyway, i still like it more than the hardback cover, which doesn't do much for me.