Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

August 7, 2009

Boy Toy
Barry Lyga
ISBN 0-618-72393-5
Grades 10 to 12
Houghton Mifflin, 2007
Realistic Fiction/Abuse

One of the things Josh learned at the age of twelve was how to please a woman.

Summary:

In this story, ripped from the headlines, Josh is now a high school senior whose past won’t let him go. His teacher, Eve, molested Josh at the age of twelve.  Josh’s relationship with Eve didn’t come out until he almost raped one of his best friends; he was just doing what he was taught.  Now, his whole town knows his secret. Ever since his relationship with Eve began, Josh has experienced flickers (flashbacks). He is unable to date and feels like a social pariah. All of a sudden, Rachel, who he assaulted that day five years ago, comes back into his life and wants a relationship. The two begin hanging and gradually it turns into more. But Josh still has a lot of hang ups regarding Eve, particularly since she was just released from jail. Seeking closure, Josh tracks down Eve and confronts her. The meeting clarifies their relationship and helps him better understand his role as the victim.

Critique:

I found this disturbing novel to be very powerful. I was very moved by how much Josh didn’t understand that he was a victim. I had to put this one down a few times, but I am so glad I read it.

Curriculum Ties:

Use Boy Toy to illustrate the narrative device of flashbacks.

Controversy:

Graphic sex, child abuse, rape, violence.

This book is graphic  and explicit, provide warnings and discussion points for parents and teachers. Have reviews at the ready to defend Boy Toy. Be prepared.

Selection Rationale:

As with The Burn Journals, this is an important book because it is about issues that are normally discussed only in the context of girls. Boys are sexually abused, too. It is also an excellent portrait of the long and complex healing process one individual experiences.

“Authentic and fresh, the narrative voice develops along with Joshua, gaining experience but never overpowering the tortured undertones. Lyga’s portrayal of the fight between Joshua and Sherman’s husband is riveting and tense; the main character’s later reflections on that confrontation are equally powerful. Deftly weaving together a painful confession and ambiguous ending, Lyga’s dynamic writing style creates an emotionally wrenching and haunting tale.” – Kirkus

ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2008

Booktalking:

Describe Josh’s flickers (but not the explicit content of them).

Present Josh’s story as a news headline.

Read the list of things Josh learned when he was twelve.

About the Author:

Barry Lyga is the author of the very popular novel The Astonishing Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl, a sequel is scheduled for a fall 2009 release. Lyga also writes comics and graphic novels.

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams
ISBN 0-312-55511-3
St. Martin’s Press, 2009
Grade 7 and up
Realistic Fiction

Kyra, fourteen, loves to read and developed a surprising crush on her friend Joshua. Unfortunately, as one of the Chosen, Kyra is betrothed to a man five times her age and could face severe punishment for reading and kissing Joshua if one of the Apostles were to find out.

Summary:

Fourteen-year-old Kyra has a lot of guilt. She has been sneaking kisses with her friend Joshua, she sneaks out to visit the bookmobile, and she has thoughts about killing the Prophet. Kyra’s family lives in a community formed by a polygamous sect, the Chosen. Selected to marry her sixty-year-old uncle, Kyra loses it. She knows she cannot marry him, not only is he fifty years older than she, he is also abusive and domineering to women. She refuses the marriage and puts her entire family in danger. In a community that expects cooperation without question, Kyra’s aggressiveness on this matter is unwelcome. Kyra knows she must escape; she solicits the help of the bookmobile driver who she has befriended over her weekly visits. When she reveals all to him he is eager to help. In a fast-paced chase scene, the driver speeds her away from the compound toward the city, followed by members of the Chosen. The Chosen manage to kill the bookmobile driver, but Kyra dials 911 on his cell phone. She is rescued by police and brought to a safe house for people leaving the Chosen.

Critique:

The Chosen One wasn’t quite what I anticipated, but I found it an engrossing page turner. A few elements were hard to believe: if everyone is being watched so closely, how is Kyra able to sneak around so easily? Otherwise, this is an excellent selection for a book group or even classroom selection.

Curriculum Ties:

The Chosen One could be used in classroom units on religion (including cults), including both current events and historical events.

Controversy:

Child rape, physical abuse.

Encourage challengers to read the entire book to understand the context of these elements and their importance to the story. Point out that this happens in real life and refer challengers to news stories.

Selection Rationale:

I heard about this new book on one of the YALSA listservs and thought it sounded interesting. The story brings up many issues that will make it wonderful for discussion.

“Within a fast-moving story, Williams creates sympathetic characters, and readers will hold their breath right to the end, hoping that Kyra wins her freedom.” – The Horn Book Magazine

“…Kyra’s terrible dilemma–escaping her fate means betraying her family–is heartbreakingly real, and the final scenes are riveting and suspenseful.” – Kirkus

Booktalking:

Describe life on Kyra’s compound.

About the Author:

Carol Lynch Williams, an avid reader and writer is the author of many books for children and young adults. Upcoming titles are Lost in Peace and A Glimpse is All I Can Stand.

Forged by Fire
Sharon Draper
ISBN 0-689-81851-3
Simon Pulse, 1998
Grade  7 and up
Urban Fiction

Gerald knows fire. A fire saved him from a terrible life once, how will he free himself and his sister this time?

Summary:

Gerald accidentally sets a fire when left home alone as a young child. He is taken away from his drug addict mother, finally finding safety and stability in his aunt’s home. Gerald’s aunt dies suddenly and his mother, half-sister, and her father re-enter his life. Jordan is dangerous and abusive; he beats up Gerald and molests Angel, (Gerald’s half-sister and Jordan’s daughter).

Gerald tries endlessly to protect Angel, even getting Jordan sent to jail. After he’s released, Jordan’s ire is even worse. Gerald and Angel’s parents tumble deeper into drug and alcohol addiction. A car hits Monique, the kids’ mother, and life takes a turn for the worse. Monique is a shell of her former self – she forms an addiction to painkillers. Then Gerald’s best friend dies in a car crash. Angel is nearly raped by Jordan. Luckily, a fire starts in the apartment. Gerald gets home just in time to rescue Angel, but Jordan meets his end. The two feel a glimmer of hope as they ride away from the flames in an ambulance.

Critique:

This short, quick read is accessible in language but deals with many harsh realities. Draper is direct and unflinching in her dealings with abuse, addiction, co-dependency, death, friendship, and family. Gerald’s mother and step father are not the most complex characters, but the issues they face are real and many readers will be able to identify with Gerald and Angel’s experiences.

Curriculum Ties:

Examine the first chapter of Forged by Fire (initially submitted as a short story) when studying short stories in an English class.

Selection Rationale:

This is a moving account of a young teen’s experience of abuse and his attempts to salvage his family. Young adults will find many issues to identify with in Forged by Fire.

ALA Popular Paper Backs for Young Adults, 2002
“…Forged by Fire is a grim look at an inner-city home where abuse and addiction are a way of life and the children are the victims. There’s no all’s-well ending, but readers will have hope for Gerald and Angel, who have survived a number of gut-wrenching ordeals by relying on their constant love and caring for one another.” – School Library Journal
“…Draper faces some big issues (abuse, death, drugs) and provides concrete options and a positive African American role model in Gerald.” – Booklist

Booktalking:

Contrast life with Aunt Queen and life with Mom and Jordan.

About the Author:

Sharon Draper, and educator as well as author, has been honored as the National Teacher of the Year and is the recipient of five Coretta Scott King Awards.

Additional Information:

Forged by Fire is the sequel to Tears of a Tiger.