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 at all what I expected. It’s dark. Very dark. But real. Sad, haunting, humanizing. Uses for Boys provides a look into the world we generally try to pretend doesn’t exist because it hurts too much to imagine people going through these lives on a daily basis. Anna is a broken individual. She lets boys use her over and over again, all the while telling herself it’s for love. She learned this pattern from her often-absent mother, who reenters Anna’s life every couple of months in a feeble attempt at parenting, before gracelessly bowing out.
This book is not about relationships. It’s not about love. It’s not even really about boys or their uses and in that way, I find both the title and synopsis a bit misleading. Yes, all those elements are in the story, but the real story is Anna’s; her growth, her fall, and her attempt to scrape her back from rock-bottom. There isn’t really a happy ending. There’s just her emotional journey and a final glimpse at hope.
My favorite aspect of Uses for Boys is the writing. Scheidt’s writing is so, so powerful and lyrical. The pages fly by. The words seem to sing. I think Scheidt chose the best possible method to tell this story. The writing both captures Anna’s voice and lends a sense of beauty to every heart-wrenching scene. I will definitely read another book by Scheidt just to return to this writing style.
However, while I appreciated the novel’s beauty and cared about Anna and her journey, I found a lot of the novel lacking. While Anna’s emotional journey is engaging, her everyday life is so completely dull. I’d be happy to accept this contrast, except after seeing how strong Anna is, I have a tough time believing she just simply lets all these things happen to her rather than try to live her life for so many chapters. Toward the end, she starts actually doing more, but I expected that sort of behavior from her throughout the novel.
In addition, I feel there’s a significant lack of character development. Toy is the most important female influence in Anna’s life but, given a surprising reveal at the story’s end, we come to find out we actually know nothing about her. Her character doesn’t lend much to the book or Ana’s life, which is quite a disappointment as I feel Scheidt could have used her so much more. And then, we’re left without closure. I know the final scene is supposed to seem uplifting, but without a conclusion for Toy, I can’t help feeling unsatisfied. The same can be said for Jane and Anna’s mother. Though both play significant roles in Anna’s life and mean a lot to her, we never really receive an ending for them, either.
We do get more of a sense of closure–or at least the promise of happiness–for Sam and Anna. But again, this is almost unsatisfying as I don’t think Sam is sufficiently characterized. How does he come to love Anna? We skip over a majority of the beginning of their relationship, which is actually a very pivotal time for Anna, a time I think we deserve to see. Their ending also reads as a bit rushed and forced, rather than completely intentional.
But maybe all that just adds up to asking for a happier ending, when happy endings aren’t necessarily indicative of real life. Things are often messy, important words left unsaid and stories left without conclusions. Perhaps the fact that I have so many questions proves that Scheidt did her job well. If I have questions, it’s because I care and want to know more about these characters and this world. And it’s true, the entire time I was reading, I was extremely invested in Anna’s life. I picked the book up and didn’t want to put it down until I finished. It’s a quick read, though it deals with heavy subjects (including numerous sex scenes, the topic of abortion, underage drinking, and drug use). But I think Scheidt handles her subject realistically and maturely. This is an engaging book and I think it’s important for girls to have a chance to see why our romantic relationships don’t define us; we need to take care of ourselves before even thinking about taking care of another person. No matter what, your happiness always comes first, and that important message is realized within the pages of Uses for Boys.
Publication Date: January 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating [rating: 3.5]
Teaser Quote: “Sometimes kids come into the cafe after school and sometimes I’m invisible to them. I want someone to ask me why I’m there. Why I’m not in school. I want someone to recognize that I’m a kid just like they are. And then Sam does.“