Risk of retraumatization for those with sexual misconduct-related trigger issues.

Five years ago, Josh was twelve and sleeping with his history teacher, Mrs. Sherman, a fact which came to light following a disastrous spin-the-bottle game with his best friend, Rachel. Now he’s a senior in high school, the teacher has been released from jail, and when he bumps into Rachel after years of avoidance, he learns that she’s not mad at him for the reasons he thought she was mad at him. And she doesn’t want to stay mad at him; she wants to pick up where they left off. And he’s waiting to hear from his Holy Trinity of colleges while trying to keep up both his straight-A streak and his remarkable batting average.

It’s absorbing, powerful, and really well-written. Josh is an interesting but likable first-person narrator, his pain and issues omnipresent but not melodramatic or maudlin. The lengthy sections in which he goes through his relationship with Mrs. Sherman and its immediate aftermath are particularly stellar, and particularly creepy; the author doesn’t spare us the details of Josh’s first sexual experiences, though he does for some reason shy away from the vaginal intercourse and actions that focused on her body, rather than his. Throughout it all, we can see her manipulations as she carefully works Josh around so that he thinks the guilt lies with him.

In the present-day sections, we can still see the remnants of those manipulations, even after years of therapy and being told that it wasn’t his fault. He is still obsessed with what happened, so much so that he doesn’t realize that while people in his small town know and remember, that it’s not all they think about. He realizes that his best guy friend, Zik, is doing his best by always being there for Josh and never asking about it, but he never, for five years, thought about what that does to Zik and Zik’s friendship with Rachel. And when he does, we see how painful it is for him, how he sees yet another reason for him to apologize.

The major flaw in the modern-day sections is Rachel. She knows what she wants—Josh—and she’s determined to get it. Whether he wants her or not. Their conversations are sometimes painfully reminiscent of Josh with Mrs. Sherman; him demurring, her instructing. Yes, they are the same age and neither is in a formal position of power, but the massive guilt he feels toward her does put her at an advantage over him—and she uses it. She does not respect Josh’s sexual agency—his right to not say yes—and she is emotionally manipulative, using, perhaps unknowingly, some of the same strategies that Mrs. Sherman used. She is presented as a heroic figure putting herself on the line to rescue her friend from his issues, but her actions are reprehensible. Boy Toy took pains to remind us that boys can be raped and taken advantage off; unfortunately, it forgot that men can be raped and taken advantage of, too. Absence of a yes is a no, regardless of gender, and a yes must be freely given, not the result of manipulation or abuse.

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Boy Toy ~ Barry Lyga ~ Barry Lyga’s Blog

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Soul Enchilada David Macinnis GillBug’s daily life is a struggle. She dropped out of high school to take care of her grandfather, and when he died she was left with no family—really, with not much more than her grandfather had: one very nice car. A year after his death Bug is working pizza delivery and not quite making ends meet. And that’s before a demon shows up to repossess the car, and possibly her soul. Luckily there’s a cute boy who’s reasonably knowledgeable about this supernatural stuff, and more than happy to help.

After years of struggling for self-sufficiency and the need to prove, to herself and the world, that she is an adult and can take care of herself, Bug is very reluctant to even listen when someone else may be offering help, or knowledge. It’s realistic and it fits her character, but it makes for a frustrating read—I was rooting for her and so were many characters, and if she’d only slow down and listen to them, she’d have a much smoother time getting out of this pickle. Basically, she’s up shit creek and turning her nose up at everyone who tries to give her a paddle.

Luckily, the cute boy—Pesto—doesn’t give up easily and Bug softens a little by the end, so it’s not as disastrous as it could be. The romance that strikes up between the two is adorable—him failing to be anything other than an awkward nerdboy, her failing to be anything but a prickly, trash-talking, abandoned girl—and only overdone in one scene. The minor characters are great: Pesto; Pesto’s mother, combining a matriarchal force of nature and a source of comfort and gentleness; the gamer nerds working at the International Supernatural Immigration Service; even Bug’s grandfather, dead and gone though he is. It’s really the charm of these supporting characters that makes the book enjoyable, with some help from sheer silliness—who knew that hairspray was an effective weapon against demons?

Overall, it’s a book that reaches high and sometimes misses. (For instance, the high-stakes high-speed pizza delivery scene just made me want to hand both Bug and the author a copy of Snow Crash. Now that’s high-speed pizza delivery.) Still, it’s funny and cute, and it’s a refreshing change to see a working class girl and a primarily nonwhite cast of characters taking the lead.

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SoulEnchilada.com ~ David Macinnis Gill

I read a book about football.

And I liked it.

I don’t understand football. I don’t understand team sports in general.¹ When I was in high school, I completely avoided all interscholastic sports events. I was regularly accused of having zero school spirit, a charge which was largely justified, but really, high school football was also not that big a deal in my town.²

So an obsession with football is pretty alien to me. I watched the first season of Friday Night Lights and enjoyed it on an intellectual level, as a sociological study of a foreign culture.

Dairy Queen I flat out enjoyed.

D.J. is the only girl in a family of football men, poor but extremely hardworking farmers who are better at football than at dairy farming. Since her dad busted his knee, D.J.’s been doing all the farm work (and her dad has taken over the cooking, with mixed results) and is getting it done, though it cut into her ability to do schoolwork. Luckily, it’s summer, so all she needs to do is the farmwork. And do a favor for a family friend by training the quarterback of her school’s rival football team. And maybe fall for said quarterback. And definitely decide to go out for football in the fall.

And maybe learn communication methods other than her family’s abysmal passive-aggressive ones. And maybe figure out what’s up with her best friend and her little brother. And her parents.

In some ways, it feels like reading a therapy transcript. A very funny therapy transcript, minus the therapist. But with a lot of emotions and relationships, looked at through day to day events. D.J.’s often a bit of an idiot when it comes to people, but she’s so honest and drily humorous that it would be hard not to like her. I don’t understand football, but the overworked mom, the closeted friend, the frustrated dad, the isolated brother—he’s almost as closeted as the friend, it’s just not about sexual orientation in his case— are all real, believable, understandable people

Don’t worry; I’m still staying far, far away from football.

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¹There’s the cooperative part of the brain, and there’s the competitive part of the brain. These parts in opposition. Somehow team sports imply that they can be turned on simultaneously. This is… weird.

²Our team lost almost all the time, anyway. Occasionally, the town could muster up some enthusiasm for hockey or soccer. When we were winning.

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Dairy Queen ~ Catherine Gilbert Murdock
My review of Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Princess Ben