Friday, January 25, 2013

Uses For Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

* * 3/4

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 has stumped me. I had a hard time with this and it took me a while to come up with this review. Why did it take me close to a month to write this review? Mostly because I found the entire dysfunctional relationship between Anna and her mother so disturbing. Her mother is a self-absorbed, absentee parent leaving Anna to grow up alone. Seriously, this girl has not one adult in her life to guide her, comfort her or talk to her. She's left to her own devices and frankly I was amazed that she didn't end up in a ditch somewhere.

David Levithan, a writer Nat and I absolutely adore, had said before that we should treat books not as just mirrors but also as windows into other lives. Keeping that in mind, I still found looking through this window to be immensely upsetting. I dreaded every moment of watching Anna being left to fend for herself. What a lonely life! As she got into various predicaments especially sexual situations, I was so uncomfortable and repulsed. I understood why Anna did some of the things she did to feel close to people but her idea of emotional and physical intimacy are so distorted. Now I readily admit that I felt so strongly because I am a mother and I can’t fathom a parent being so completely useless and uncaring. I know that this has colored my perception of this book and I am genuinely interested in hearing another reader's point of view.

Here is a good point though: it's provocative. Despite its graphic nature, Scheidt's delivery of Anna's story is emotionally raw and blunt. There are many painful and disturbing moments throughout  that will make you shake your head and want to punch something. But the silver lining is that Anna despite all the crap that happens to her is resilient and does eventually come into her own. Don't get me wrong - she confused the hell out of me. There were times when she was almost robotic about the events happening around her. I don’t think she fully comprehends some of the things that have happened to her in the past but she ends up with more clarity about her mother and her best friend, Toy. To be honest, her empathy towards her mother shocked me.

So I give Uses For Boys 2 and ¾ stars - only because I can't describe it as an enjoyable read. While it was difficult for me to read this, I'm glad to have had something that pushed me out of my comfort zone and given me plenty of food for thought. 

~ Bel

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