Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

For Older Teens and Adults: BOY TOY

I know it's late folks, but Barry Lyga is my latest writer/hero, so I couldn't resist giving him a shout out tonight. I had met him at Books of Wonder a few weeks ago at the launch party for Sourcebooks and was charmed. Who was this man who looks like Liev Shreiber, with an open face and friendly smile? I didn't set out to read his book, Boy Toy, but I couldn't leave without a signed copy.

"Some parents have a hard time reading it," he warned gently, and I scoffed.

"I think I can handle it," said I, confident that I had tackled some pretty serious issues not only in my fiction, but in my life.

Well . . . he was right. The trauma of sexual abuse does not make for light reading.

At seventeen, Josh Mendel is incapable of intimacy with anyone, including his best and only friend. All he does is study for the "A" and play baseball. No dates, no parties - no socializing, period.

Ever hear the one about the boy who died after having an affair with his teacher? He died high fivin'. Ba-dum-dum. (Male guffawing and laughter ensues.)

When Josh Mendel is twelve, he gets the amazing opportunity to spend time with his "hot" history teacher, alone, in her apartment. He gets to play video games, get her drinks, and is treated like an adult. He likes it, he starts to love it, to love her, to fall-in-love . . . He starts to look at her in a sexual way, and then . . . this is way beyond Mrs. Robinson folks. It is a look into how predators often work, and as a parent, yes, I am horrified. And moved beyond belief by the grief and pain Mr. Lyga has painted.

Do boys get the subconscious message that it's manly to objectify women? That they're all about sex, while it's only girls who want intimacy? Are girls and boys the only ones who are traumatized from sexual abuse by men? Barry takes an unflinching look at not only Josh's emotional landscape as he travels down this path, but at the damage ingrained by our cultural attitudes towards sex and gender.

There were times when this book as so excruciatingly painful and uncomfortable, that I had to stop reading. And yet there were others, like tonight when I couldn't put it down until I had finished it. I had to see the character arc through - to move into hope of recovery. And I wasn't disappointed! I wish that Mr. Lyga and this book had been around when I was a teen: it sure would have helped me understand boys better! But I can be grateful that Mr. Lyga and his growing lexicon are with us now, and are here for future generations.

Good night!


  1. Please keep the book recommendations coming. Thank you.

  2. Hello Lena,

    What a pleasure to finally read your blogorific sharing!

    Congratulations on your publication - I can feel your 'Gran' among others smiling down on you.

    So, let's see if you can guess who this anonymous commentor might be......... My morning students taking pajama piano lessons before school shared some funny jokes with me today so I am in a smiley mood.

    Here is your hint......we were last together at your Gran's memorial and I brought you greetings from a friend of yours on the Upper West Side whom I had just met that morning. It was a surprising coincidence that her Grandmother and my Mom knew each other back in MY state.

    It is YES a small world afterall........xoxo

  3. I am so embarrassed - I've been wracking my brain and I vaguely remember - the feeling I remember is joy on a sad occasion, (I love serendipity!) but there were so many swirling emotions and people! The Memorial in CT? PLEASE reveal yourself to me, Anonymous! It will probably hit me as I go about my day!

    And thank you so much for continuing to read my blogs Kristi! :-D

  4. Oh Lena!

    It is I who should be embarrassed for asking you to remember something from such a poignant time. In fact, I will now refer to myself as a 'POOPHEAD' (a term of endearment used in the book I wrote for a child entitled THE CUTE LITTLE BIG BAD WOLF - Did you know that the wolf blew those houses down because each of the pigs was calling him that inappropriate word?)

    But - I digress......

    And, I am still in twinkle-of-the-eye mode....

    So, without an invitation to stress, here is another clue.......or two....

    Rebecca Stead was in MY town when she missed the gathering you mentioned.

    AND you introduced me to Birdland and we have munched on scones in your Gran's warm and wonderful kitchen.

    And, it was the NYC memorial.....
    And, here are some words - recorded book, crochet a name, singing at Carnegie Hall - are you still in guessing mode?

    I have just called the library and put BOY TOY on hold to pick up this afternoon. My life's work involves kids of all ages and it behooves me to help parents know about important books.

    Take care and happy guessing.........

    almost a non-anonymous fan but still, for the time being,


  5. HMMMM . . . Rebecca was in Chicago . . . Maryjo? Is that you?

  6. Good Morning from Chicago, Lena!

    It is indeed a droopy-eyed MaryJo who stayed up all night reading BOY TOY. I am indebted to you for turning me to such a poignant crucial book. It will be recommended all around my life. Parents and teachers need to know this well crafted story. Thank you.

    What a joy to be in touch with you, Lena. It is so fantastic that you are following your writing path. I so look forward to reading YOUR work and wish you great energy as you offer your creative gifts.

    Today you are in the midst of a pile of materials in my music room. Want to guess why? (just kidding- no more guessing)

    Actually, I am preparing a 'WRINKLE' workshop and one of the photos I share from the cozy writing space is of you, your Gran and your sister. I will send you a copy if you would like.

    In February, a very enthusiastic student generously insisted I borrow his copy of a book written by the author who visited his school. That night, I felt I was reading myself back to your Gran's neighborhood. I could see the mailbox, hear sounds from Birdland, smell restaurants' wafting invitations to enter from the street....

    Soon I came to the point where Miranda was challenged to recite the first line from the book she carried.

    Lena, before the sentence presented itself, I knew what was coming......I said HOLY @$#%*!!! SHE'S READING 'WRINKLE'!!!

    Rebecca Stead has given an exquisite tribute to your Gran in her insightful book. Soon I will write to thank her and offer her some information and photos she may enjoy.

    Did you know that Mrs. Who's 'WRINKLE' quotes came from a book your Gran had given your grandfather? She tried to obtain a copy for me but it was out of print. Now, thanks to the Internet, I now have DICTIONARY OF FOREIGN PHRASES AND CLASSICAL QUOTES edited by H.P. Jones. Believe it or not, the Greek quote in 'WRINKLE' has been wrong from day one. In my workshop I share THE BIG FAT GREEK MISTAKE, show how it happened and give participants the accurate Euripides quote.....

    'Nothing is hopeless, we must hope for everything.'

    I will leave you with that for now, but I will carry you in my heart as I do my day. Take care, Lena. I wish you and your family lots of love.


  7. Yay Maryjo! That was fun - thank you so much for your encouragement! And I'm glad to be in touch again!

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