Teen Book Battles: Barry Lyga

boy toy
She took away his childhood and everyone knows.

Boy Toy // Barry Lyga

Josh Mendel is a senior in high school now. He’s athletic, popular and girls dig him. But something happened to him five years ago that he can’t forget. It’s his biggest secret, except it’s not so secret. The entire community knows what happened.

It’s sort of impossible to discuss this book without just coming right out and saying it so here goes: Josh Mendel was sexually abused at age 12 by his teacher. Now Josh is angry. He can’t have intimate relationships. He just wants to get out of his town and go away to college. He has good grades and is a star baseball player. But his world is falling apart, and she is being released from jail.

This is an intense, heartbreaking book. Lyga doesn’t sugar coat anything, which makes it difficult to read at times. Josh is a real kid in this novel. It can be hard for YA authors to capture the true experience of high school and the feelings and emotions that kids have at that age. A lot of times, contemporary YA fiction ends up being cliche and predictable, but Lyga does a great job of telling this story without falling into those traps.

fanboy and gothgirl
He’s determined to be published, but he never expected help from a goth girl.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl // Barry Lyga

Donnie is a sophomore with an obsession: comics and graphic novels. He may not be too popular in school, but he’s a fantastic artist and has a secret that will catapult him to fame and glory one day. He’s creating his own graphic novel, which he will publish and then throw that success in the faces of everyone who ever made fun of him.

He never counted on Kyra to enter his life, though. She’s a “goth girl” with a snappy attitude, but she also has a complicated past. Donnie now must attempt to understand Kyra and the strange friendship she offers him. Plus, he’s stressed out because he has one shot to get a comic book creator to notice his work.

Lyga is a wonderful storyteller, and he does a really great job of capturing the essence of being a teenage boy. This book is a bit more cliche than Boy Toy, but it’s still a good read. The characters are younger in this book so there are fewer adult themes. However, this is still a heavy story as suicide and depression are a big part of the plot.


Both of these books focus on young men in high school. Josh is popular and athletic while Donnie is quiet and nerdy. Josh can’t even kiss a girl because of what happened to him while Donnie fantasizes about his first kiss often. Both novels have some intense themes, though Boy Toy definitely has more graphic scenes and language. I like these books because they try to get away from the dysopian/paranormal/stereotypical romance craze that seems to have taken over YA literature. I highly recommend both.