Uses for Boys
by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Publication Date: January 15, 2013
Published by St. Martin's Press
Anna remembers a time before boys, when she was little and everything made sense. When she and her mom were a family, just the two of them against the world. But now her mom is gone most of the time, chasing the next marriage, bringing home the next stepfather. Anna is left on her own—until she discovers that she can make boys her family. From Desmond to Joey, Todd to Sam, Anna learns that if you give boys what they want, you can get what you need. But the price is high—the other kids make fun of her; the girls call her a slut. Anna's new friend, Toy, seems to have found a way around the loneliness, but Toy has her own secrets that even Anna can't know.
Then comes Sam. When Anna actually meets a boy who is more than just useful, whose family eats dinner together, laughs, and tells stories, the truth about love becomes clear. And she finally learns how it feels to have something to lose—and something to offer. Real, shocking, uplifting, and stunningly lyrical, Uses for Boys is a story of breaking down and growing up.
Uses for Boys is not a book for everyone, but it is for me. When a book evokes strong emotions, makes me feel empathy toward a character - whether I can identify with the character or not, and keeps me engaged throughout, then it is a book that I want to read.
Uses for Boys did just that and so much more.
For years Anna grew up with her single mother who night after night would tell her the story of how all she ever wanted was a little girl so she wouldn't be lonely. Anna loved to her the story which she called the "tell-me-again" times. Then one day, her mother didn't want to be lonely anymore and decided to get married. Then divorced. And then married again and then divorced. Her mother's pursuit for companionship continued until Anna was the one left alone. She wasn't just alone, she was lonely. And all but abandoned. She sought comfort in the "tell-me-again" times - the story she tells herself to get by.
Anna is sexualized at a young age. She doesn't quite understand what happened to her while it is happening, but it changes her. Soon after she starts up a relationship with Joey, who seems to like her and makes her feel not so alone. They are intimate and everyone knows and everyone is gossiping about her, even her former friends. But she wants to tell them that they've got it all wrong:
"It's hard to remember there was a time when she wasn't staring and whispering. Joey holds my hand. He doesn't notice the stares . . . . Joey changed everything for me, I want to tell her. I'm not alone. The place where my hand fits in his, that place, that feeling? I belong there." (pg 43)This moment, like so many others, just screams of Anna's loneliness and made my extremely sad for her. She just needed a connection - someone to make her feel safe and loved and valued. Throughout the book, all of her needs were confused with sexual intimacy and a desperateness that would overwhelm anyone, let alone a sixteen year old. She wanted to confide in someone, but her mother was never there. Her new best friend, Toy, only wanted to share her stories of her own love-life and boys who always seemed so perfect. Anna was scared to share her feelings, afraid of being rejected or betrayed by a friend again, so she stayed silent. Alone.
Not every moment is filled with an overwhelming sadness (which I realize this review is beginning to portray). There are tender moments when a new friendship begins for Anna. Caring adults do come into her life and her mother does eventually come around. I definitely wouldn't say that she is present, but there are times when there is genuine concern for Anna's welfare. I can't say that there is a happily ever after because Anna is still so young and she's only really beginning to live. But there are possibilities. And clarity. And connections - just want Anna needs.
When I started thinking about writing this review, I found that a lot of what I wanted to say was in defense of the book. I'd noticed a lot of low-star ratings and not-so positive reviews. It almost made me hesitant to read the book. But I've read and enjoyed many a book that a lot of people didn't like, so I just knew that I needed to read Uses for Boys and decide for myself. We each have our own experiences with reading - what we bring of ourselves to the story and what we take away. What resonates with us will always be different for each reader. I think that Uses for Boys is a story that needs to be read and I hope that more readers will consider the low-starred reviews but still give this book the chance it deserves.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the paperback version which I purchased for my personal library. I was not compensated in any way for providing this review. Thoughts and opinions are my own.