Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt.
Paperback, 240 pages.
To be published January 15, 2013.
Published by St. Martin's Press.
Source: From the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, 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.
This is a novel of emotion. If you do not want to feel things, don't pick up this one. But if you're looking for longing, pain, and sadness, this is the perfect novel.
Anna is alone. Her mother is always absent, chasing the next "Mr. Right" who never is truly right, at least not for long. Anna was happy with just her mother but as her mother pulls away more and more, Anna is left to fend for herself. She is lonely, so she turns to the people who give her attention: boys.
Anna is a tough character to read about. She's broken and alone. She has so few good, happy memories in her life that she keeps going back to the only ones she does have. A memory of her and her mother cuddled in bed is like her happy place and is a memory that keeps coming up during Anna's sad, slow, aching descent into a life of separating herself from her feelings. As hard as it was to read about her, her story never felt hopeless. There was always a quality of something coming next, something for her to work towards, which I really appreciated. As a reader, I never want to give up hope on a character. I never had to with Anna. She always held on. I think, if I had to describe the feeling of this book in one sentence, I'd call it "heartbreaking, but never hopeless". I loved that about it. A lack of hope ends with a lack of feeling. This book always had me feeling something. It was wonderful for that.
I felt the plot moved a little slowly at times, and although there were times I wished there was more happening or that it would move forward more quickly, I do see how the pace was fitting for the kind of story it was telling. I really wish we had had more time with Sam, the boy who changes Anna's perspective and shows her what she is truly missing out on. I wish I could have gotten to know him more. I do think the ending of the story was very well put, though. I won't spoil it, but it was quite satisfying, after everything that happens.
The writing was very well done and certainly contributed to the emotion. It was often written in simple sentences, as if it were Anna's thoughts on the page. It's written so that everything is laid out plain and bare. People hide things from Anna, but she, as the narrator, doesn't hide things from the reader. Her hurt is evident through her words. There is so much to this book but Erica brings it down to the core of the issue with the simplistic but poetic language. There's a sad longing in Anna and in the book itself that's always there but never fully acknowledged. It just lingers, sometimes more prominently, sometimes pushed to the background.
I think part of why I thought this was a great book was that it reminded me, in some ways, of Ellen Hopkins' work (she also did the blurb on the cover, which I thought was fitting), which I absolutely love. I also found that Anna reminded me of someone I knew, which I think helped me feel her pain a little stronger than I might have otherwise, if there was no connection there. I'm glad I connected, because this is one of those books that to truly enjoy it, you have to connect with the narrator. It's all about her trying to find her place in a life that she doesn't think really wants her, so if you don't care about her, you won't care about the book. I cared. I cared, so I hurt for her. Erica and Anna played with my feelings and I loved them for doing that.