Barry Lyga‘s Boy Toy opens with a list devised by main character Josh Mendel.
Ten Things I Learned at the Age of Twelve:
1. The Black Plague was transmitted by fleas that were carried throughout Europe by rats.
2. If you first paralyze it, you can cut open a frog and watch its lungs continue to inflate and deflate.
3. There are seven forms of the verb to be: am, being, been, is, was, were, and are.
4. In order to divide fractions, you invert the divisor to arrive at the reciprocal, which is then multiplied by the dividend. (Mixed fractions must first be converted to improper fractions.)
5. In Salem, the witches weren’t burned at the stake – they were pressed to death under big rocks… or hanged.
6. Islam was founded in the year 610. It is the third of three world religions worshiping the same god.
7. Each point on a “coordinate plane” (created by the joining of an x-axis and a y-axis) can be described by an ordered pair of numbers.
8. “Monotheism” is a belief system centered on a single deity, while “polytheism” subscribes to belief in multiple deities.
9. The area of a circle can be determined by using the formula πr2, where r is the radius of the circle.
10. How to please a woman.
At first glance, the list seems almost tongue-in-cheek. But as soon as you know you’re about to launch into the story of one boy’s sexual abuse by his seventh-grade history teacher, your brow furrows. Your heart begins to sink.
For the most part, the story’s told through Josh’s eyes, five years after the incident in question. You start to piece it together from Josh’s harrowing “flickers,” little memories from months of abuse that tend to interrupt any given moment without warning. A clearer picture emerges from a number of sustained flashbacks, and the years since have given Josh a chance to reflect. But two inciting incidents drive the relationship back into his consciousness, almost to a breaking point: 1. Josh’s abuser is freed from prison early, and 2. After years of avoiding the classmate who brought his situation to light, he runs into her and must face his own wrongdoing.
Like any seventeen-year-old’s life, Boy Toy does have its light moments. These become essential in heavier stories like this, both to keep readers going with something to smile about, and to ensure the action and tension remain true to life.
For Josh, seventh grade and its aftermath turned into a battleground of control and manipulation – without his even realizing it. Afterwards, despite frequent visits with a psychologist, he continues his fight against others’ views of control. But alongside several surprising reactions to everyday events (some culminating in a sudden violent side), Josh begins to make painful decisions of his own. It’s not that Josh’s abuse forced him to grow up. It forced him to see how un-grown-up he’d really been, through it all.
This book will mean something unique and unforgettable to everyone who reads it.