Book Review: Uses For Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

11958608Uses For Boys
by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
January 15, 2013
St. Martin’s Press
240 pages
Source: Around the World ARC Tours

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. (Goodreads Summary.)

My Take On It

If I had one word to describe Uses For Boys it would probably be unexpected. You look at that sweet and pretty cover and you think you have some idea of what the book might be about (even if the title is somewhat suggestive.) Well I am here to tell you that this book is not at all what I thought it would be. But that is not necessarily a BAD thing. Here is what I can tell you about this book: if you are looking for light, light subject matter or light romance, then this book will probably disappoint you. But if you are interested in looking at a very unglamorous version of how a young adult girl copes with being neglected and essentially abandoned by almost everyone in her life, then I think Uses For Boys will be a book that you find pretty unforgettable. You may not love it, but I think it will definitely be thought provoking.

When we first meet the protagonist Anna, she is a young girl living with her single mom with whom she is very close. Anna recalls how safe she feels snuggling with her mom as she tells her the story of how alone she was and how she had always dreamed of having a little girl so she wouldn’t be alone anymore. To Anna the life she and her mom share is perfect. But Anna is just a child and as she gets older things begin to change. Her mom begins dating lots of men, always searching for the perfect one. Anna watches as her mom moves from man to man, and eventually husband to husband, growing more distant from her daughter in the process. By the time Anna is 12 or 13 years old, her mom is rarely around, and Anna is more alone than ever. Around this time, as is usually the case, boys begin to notice Anna. And Anna, who has been invisible for so long, relishes the attention. Unfortunately, due to Anna’s upbringing, she has a completely warped view of what constitutes a healthy relationship. And the reader is made witness to this over and over again.

Uses For Boys is a pretty graphic book, you guys. It’s gritty, raw, and uncensored. I don’t know that I would say it’s appropriate for the younger YA set. A lot of it made me very uncomfortable, and I am a grown woman. But look, the fact of the matter is stuff like what happens to Anna happens in real life. You know those documentaries you sometimes see on  channels like MSNBC about teenage runaways? The ones that make you cringe and can leave you feeling depressed yet really thankful that you never had it so bad? Well that’s kind of what reading Uses For Boys was like for me.  I know that there are many, many kids who find themselves in similar situations like Anna’s every day. And I think even though it made me squirm to read it, it’s important that somebody is out there telling their story as well.

Character wise, Anna is a tough one.  On the one hand I have the utmost sympathy for her situation. She is definitely a product of her environment and is thrown into an adult world with adult relationships, far too soon. There were many times that I wanted to reach right into the book and rescue her, just get her OUT.  On the other hand I literally bristled at some of her actions. I know that many of the reasons she is the way she is, and the reasons she does what she does is because that’s all Anna knows, but I’d be lying if I said I totally connected with her character. But what I can say is that as the story progresses, Anna does mature, wise up, and grow as a character.

So when Anna meets Sam, Sam who has everything in a home life that Anna doesn’t, I did really pull for them. As far as Sam’s character goes, I wish he had been fleshed out more. In fact all of the other characters in the book, Anna’s mom, her friend Toy, her many boyfriends and hook ups, all needed some work in that department. But story wise, I was pretty riveted. I had to know what was going to happen to Anna.

The book ended on what I would call a hopeful note. No cut and dry resolutions, but hints that perhaps Anna’s next sixteen years would be better than her first.

All in all Uses For Boys was a thought provoking story.  It definitely took me out of my comfort zone as a reader, not because of the graphic nature of the book, but more because of how it looks at personal relationships. Uses For Boys does not romanticize sex in any way shape or form. And it doesn’t romanticize any other relationship, be it the one between Anna and her mom or Anna and her best friend Toy, either. And even though I am a romantic at heart, I can’t help but be impressed with the stark authenticity that author Erica Lorraine Scheidt has written into this book.  I know this book will not be for everyone, but I am glad that I gave it a shot. I think it will be a book  that I won’t soon forget.