by Barry Lyga; Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007, 410 pages, $16.95
Dr. Heath is a psychiatrist at Cambridge Memorial Hospital Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.
Although this novel is about the sexual molestation of seventh-grade student Josh Mendel by his history teacher, Mrs. Sherman, it is not a serious, grim documentary type of work. There is no explicit recounting of the victim's experience. The author, Barry Lyga, has a light touch and Boy Toy is a treat to read. The main character, Josh, is the typical male adolescent protagonist, cast in the same mold as Holden Caulfield and Adrian Mole—highly intelligent and full of amusing wry insights into the sad state of the adult world. Gluing the novel together is baseball. Josh is a high-school baseball star, as are his best friend, Zik, and his girlfriend, Rachel. The book is replete with baseball statistics (Josh is also a math wizard), images, and metaphors.
The plot is told in a very clever way. The reader and Josh are both in the dark as to what really happened that night of spin the bottle with Rachel—both age 12. Acting like a libertine twice his age, he rips off her clothes and starts to do things to her that have been taught to him by his seventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Sherman. Together, the reader and Josh discover the truth—particularly the psychological truth—of how that pivotal event happened. Effortlessly, the novel flits back and forth between Josh as a 12-year-old and Josh as an 18-year-old about to graduate.
All the subtitles and ambiguities of adult-child sexual relationships are explored in a tasteful understated fashion. There are ambiguities in Josh's feelings. At first he feels very special and grown up; he imagines that he is seducing his "hot" history teacher. Fascinated, the reader watches all this gradually unfold, like a slow-motion train wreck. The dialogue is particularly good: authentic, smart, funny, and convincing, especially the transcripts of his sessions with his psychiatrist. It is only by the last chapter, with the help of Rachel and his own brave confrontation with Mrs. Sherman after she is released from jail, that the damage done to Josh and to his ability to relate to his peer group—especially girls—becomes clear. The fiendish cleverness of the sexual predator is brilliantly portrayed without a sexual scene ever being described. It is all done by inference. Mrs. Sherman has turned him into a seasoned Lothario with a teenager's body and mind.
Only after his own efforts and the tender mature support of Rachel—illustrated in some wonderfully touching love scenes—does Josh fully heal. The book ends on an upbeat note with Josh getting into an Ivy League school. This book, besides being a good read, provides great insight into sexual abuse of boys and would be of particular interest to those working in that field.