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USES FOR BOYS
by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Published January 15, 2013
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
Published in Paperback
graphic sexual content
graphic sexual content
5 of 5 owls
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 unlike anything I've ever read, and that is the easiest thing I've ever said.
Told in stark, haunting and lyrical prose, Uses for Boys is the story of a quiet misfit, Anna, raised by a single, troubled mother, hopping from boyfriend to husband and back again like the rising and falling of the sun. From the beginning, Anna gripped me tightly. We've all had those moments in our lives where we felt along and unloved and, in the beginning of the book, Anna feels just that way when her mom neglects her for her latest boyfriend.
Anna is seven years old in the beginning of the book. The five years that followed are told briskly, mostly as emotional setup for the rest of the novel. I'll say now that when I started Uses for Boys, I wasn't expecting nearly the emotional drain I received when I closed the back cover. Uses for Boys is sly with the planting of its emotional seeds, and you don't realize until the end just how in love with Anna's struggles you've become.
Anna's struggles with boys mainly seem to stem from her mother's similar issue. After all, like mother, like daughter, right? Monkey see, monkey do. Especially at such a young age and in such a fragile state, it would make sense for Anna, young, docile and craving her mother's attention, to latch onto her actions and imitate them.
One thing that I noticed while reading was that the dialogue was sparse. Uses for Boys is a novel told more in description and silence than dialogue, and that is much appreciated. A lack of dialogue creates a much greater emotional investment in you as a reader, and that certainly happened in this case.
One of my favorite things one can do as an author is adding a sense of unity between the beginning and the end, through, say, the repetition of a passage. When authors do this, it really adds a sense of "Wow, look at how far we've come in this novel," which just makes the ending that much more emotionally fragile.
Speaking of the ending, it was very real. Not every single plot thread was resolved, but such a thing is unrealistic, and part of what made the ending of Uses for Boys so delightful and emotional was the startling reality of it all. Anna is surely one of the strongest YA characters I've had the pleasure of reading, even during moments of weakness. But it is Anna's ability to realize her mistakes and maintain a sense of recovery that makes her so strong. Anna is a very human protagonist, and my heart broke when I realized the end of the story was so near. Although I turned the last page, Anna's story will live on forever in my heart.