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.


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.


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.


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


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 Burn Journals
Brent Runyon
ISBN 0-375-82621-1
Alfred A. Knopf, 2004
Grade 8 and up

Fourteen-year-old Brent cannot stand the thought of facing his parents after screwing up again. The only way out he can see is death, but when his plans go wrong, Brent endures a year of pain and recovery.


At age fourteen Brent Runyon sets himself on fire. He is depressed and in trouble at school again; he’s already tried to kill himself several times, he figures fire is an element you can’t back down from. Boy, was he wrong. Rather than face the consequences of his actions, Brent puts on his bathrobe, douses it in gasoline, steps into the bathtub and lights a match. After mere moments the pain is more than he can stand. He turns on the shower and puts out the flames. Unsure of what to do, he leaves the bathroom to find his brother. And so begins Brent’s year in rehab and therapy. The Burn Journals recounts his painful physical and mental healing as a result of the third-degree burns covering eighty-five percent of his body. Brent endures skin grafts, operations, and physical and psychiatric therapy. He thinks his brother hates him, he has to deal with social repercussions.


Wow. This is quite a story, parts of it are very shocking and moving, but overall I found the book lacking. Although the book was engrossing, it seemed there was a level of his mental healing process that Runyon could not communicate. Why was he so depressed? Was he a pyromaniac? What was wrong with him? I was left with a lot of unanswered questions by this one — Runyon offers up no answers or solutions except for the importance of help. However, I think it is a valuable addition to a teen biography/memoir collection.

Curriculum Ties:

Use The Burn Journals while studying memoirs in a Language Arts or English class.


Suicide, graphic descriptions of Brent’s physical recuperation.

Have challengers read the entire book. Highlight the importance of discussing depression in teen boys as well as girls.

Selection Rationale:

I read good reviews of this book, but that isn’t why I included it. This is a book about male depression, an important and seldom addressed issue. The Burn Journals is important for this reason. It will undeniably also appeal to girls.

ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adults, 2007


What does Brent’s brother see and feel when Brent walks out of the bathroom?

Author Information:

Brent Runyon, born 1977, has written three books for young adults. He is a regular contributor to NPR’s This American Life, where the story of his suicide attempt was first featured.

Additional Information:

The audiobook version of The Burn Journals is an ALA Amazing Audiobook for Young Adults (2009).

The Burn Journals