Boy Toy by Barry Lyga


Rating – 4 stars

Let’s suppose somebody abused you sexually. You still had a choice, though not a good one, about what to tell yourself about the abuse. -Albert Ellis

Trying to find the correct words sometimes to describe your thoughts  can be very exhausting. 

I say this because, reading Lyga’ Boy Toy was in a way a very disorienting experience for me. Having finished this book yesterday I found myself at a loss of words to write a review and hence I procrastinated.

And while I had by today formed a rough sketch of what I would write in my head I couldn’t decide where to begin. At times like this I do the only thing I can. I resort to Google.  I search things through this enormous search monster all the time for different matters and needs, sometimes I use it to help me find some words.

But not every problem can be solved this easily as is the case in Josh’ situation here.

The book told from Josh’ POV  alternates between his past and his present. 

Josh, a brilliant boy gifted with eidetic memory, is the son of two people who are the complete opposites of each other. And that is not a good thing, not in his case. His mother, a practical woman believes to live her life with facts and concrete truths, while his father who works in an ad agency as Josh himself puts it – sells one lie at a time to the world. He lives his life in fantasy, in creativity. While facts & fiction do sometimes attract each other, they do not make the most pleasant bedfellows. 

And so the year Josh turns 12, his parents find themselves in a predicament, that has them fighting more than usual. Knowing that in a couple of years Josh will be headed for college, they will need to start making the financial arrangements needed sooner than later. While they aren’t in any dire financial condition, they make just about a hand to mouth existence. 

Josh’ dad believes his son can finish college by earning a scholarship, since he is a valuable player on his school’ baseball team and is a brilliant student. His mom believes in having a contingency plan wherein she believes should Josh for any reason not be entitled for a scholarship or fails to get one they should be prepared as much as they can to help their son gain the education he deserves, particularly since Josh is interested in heading to Stanford which is quite expensive. 

Now while the faith his father has in Josh is commendable. his mom does raise a valid point in the argument and so pursues a job to help with the education fund. Something which his father absolutely detests.

Being the only child does not help him much either, so Josh finds his refuge in the friendship of his best friend Zik, a boy who has troubles of his own at his home. They are friends  with Rachel and Michelle.

It is on Rachel’ birthday that a horrific moment leads to the exposure of the secret Josh has carried around.

It comes out in the open that Josh, for the past 4 months has had a sexual relationship with his history teacher Evelyn Sherman, who he calls Eve.

Under the pretence of having Josh help her with research for a project, Eve sought the permission of his parents allowing Josh to spend time at her home each day after school for a couple of hours. While in the beginning there is a pretence that there is a truth to this excuse, Eve uses the time to befriend Josh and win over his trust and in thus manipulating the situation, she seduces Josh. 

As Josh pleads the fifth during the trial where Eve finally accepts she is guilty, you are baffled. You don’t realize why Josh does so even after being explained by the judge that pleading the fifth is the right of a witness who does not wish to speak anything fearing prosecution and not of an abuse victim who has taken the stand to give testimony.

At 18 now, Josh has behavioural problems and is understandably still under therapy. His almost as peaceful as possible life is once again thrown off kilter when he learns that his former teacher who was sentenced for abusing him is gonna be out on parole.

Josh has been so deftly manipulated that he comes to believe that the actions of his past have been of his own doing. That the sexual relationship he happened to have at age 12, with a woman twice his age was his own choice, his own wish. That the undoing of Eve’ life is his fault. He finds himself guilty that she lost her job, ended up in jail and cheated on her husband, thus jeopardizing her marriage because of him. 

After 5 years of battling the demons of his past, how Josh finally manages to overcome his issues is the story of Toy Boy. How in finally realizing that he was the victim here and not the culprit, Josh finally sets himself free from the guilt he had been unduly carrying around, helps him move on in his life.

Tackling the issue of rape itself is not an easy thing when writing a book whether a memoir or fiction, so kudos to Lyga for not only managing to write about child molestation but has also making the book about male rape, a subject which is seldom raised. 

Josh finds himself as the culprit and not the victim in the situation not only owing to the manipulation but because he cannot bring himself  to accept the position of one. He cannot recognise the truth which has been staring him in the face for years. 

In finally accepting the one thing that he never wanted to consider Josh let’s go of his demons and stops having the episodes he calls flickers as he says it to himself 

I was molested. When I was twelve. And everyone else in the world knew it except for me.

What Lyga has managed is to make this book which could have ended up as a perverted piece of fiction, to come across as the horrific, disturbing, gritty work which explores the state of mind of a victim, who even after years is still dealing with the aftermath of the ordeal he underwent and suffers from a guilt for having had the experience but for totally the wrong reasons.  A victim of sexual abuse who suffers from  a sort of Stockholm Syndrome who heals after 5 years.


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