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Review/Discussion: Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

book cover for Uses for Boys

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Publication Date
: January 15, 2013
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Pages: 240
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: sexual relationships, parent relationship examples, effects of neglect
Format read: ARC downloaded from NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Anna’s mom has set a poor example for her by continuously hopping from one relationship or marriage to the next; frequently left alone, Anna begins to turn to boys to keep her company.

After some very in-depth discussions with Estelle and Ginger about Uses for Boys, I’ve decided I needed to pose my questions to you guys and make this more of a discussion post instead of a review. That being said, there will be some spoilers included below, so be cautious of this if you decide to read beyond this point.

Anna’s mom had her when she was very young and her father doesn’t stick around. When Anna is very young, her mother begins an endless cycle of leaving her daughter alone to go out which further progresses into longer periods away and countless marriages and divorces. When Anna is a young (innocent) teenager, she’s targeted by a boy on the school bus who decides it would be okay to touch her boob and use her to masturbate while two boys look on. (Yes, eww.) Immediately, Anna’s reputation is scarred and she seems to fall into her mother’s footsteps. She loses her virginity at fourteen and brings her boyfriend home from school every day where they explore their sexuality without her mother knowing any of this.

While much (MUCH) of the book includes very explicit sex, that’s not what Uses for Boys was about to me. I couldn’t stop asking myself these two questions:

Do we automatically follow in our parent’s footsteps?
Or is Uses for Boys saying that we don’t have to?

Anna had a choice from the moment she was on the bus to make very different decisions than she did. WHY didn’t she say no to this hormonally deranged boy? WHY did she all of a sudden think this boy touching her was okay? (There had been no previous thoughts or mentions of sex before this scene. Her mother didn’t bring men home with her – she kept her relationships very distanced from Anna aside from when she got married.) WHY did this sexual molestation on the bus lead to every other bad decision Anna made?

I suppose, to me, it was so blatant that Anna’s mother telling her “their story” (about her young pregnancy and having a daughter to cure her lonesomeness) morphed into Anna’s own story. Anna was trying to find her way without any guidance, with her mother’s story as her only example. Seeing step-fathers constantly come and go does psychologically alter how we view our own relationships and what we expect of them. The boys Anna sleeps with and the sex she has is a result of her mother’s example for her. But why did Anna choose that for herself? Why didn’t her loneliness lead to strong friendships instead of a detrimental drop-out-of-school-for-a-boy-at-sixteen relationship?

My biggest misunderstanding was in that the blame seemed to be placed more on the boys and less on Anna making poor decisions and her mother’s inability to lovingly care for her daughter. Yes, that situation on the bus should never have taken place and maybe the domino effect wouldn’t have cascaded from there, but as I previously mentioned, Anna wasn’t over-sexualized before that situation. Because of that boy, Anna’s life begins to take a downward spiral into drugs, alcohol, and sex. In the end, I was very much hoping that Anna’s sad story would have a happy ending. While things do begin to look brighter for her, I again felt a little distraught that it was a guy who led her to see there was a better life to be had. I was hoping that by the end, Anna would have a huge revelation and she would evolve without needing to rely on boys.

For some, Scheidt’s writing style has been a turn-off, though I found it to be quite unique. It worked well as a tool for understanding Anna. The writing is very stream of consciousness and less structured, demonstrating how much of Anna’s life is spent alone without anyone there to direct her through life.

As you can tell, Uses for Boys definitely made me put on my analytical thinking cap, turning this into much more of a discussion post. Have you read this book? How do you respond to the many questions it posed for me?

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September 30, 2014 - 12:01 am

Fifteen Must-Read Tough Subject Books - […] Uses for Boys — language + actual way it was written, but also sexually explicit, borderline uncomfortable for me — sex isn’t described as overly poetic and is raw and often very in-your-face […]

January 29, 2013 - 4:11 am

Jasmine Rose - I haven’t read this and I don’t really intend to, but I did find your post really interesting (not in a bad way, promise.)

Something you mentioned at the end kind of made me think. Everyone always gets disgruntled when a girl finds happiness through a boy, but I think that needs to be written sometimes because it does happen. Very rarely is it healthy, but it does happen.
Since my (older by a couple years) sister was 15 (she’s almost 22 now) she hasn’t spent more than a month of her life not fixating on a guy. Now, this certainly isn’t healthy. Just recently it lead to a marriage that ended after 2 months. She was with another guy within weeks. I wish she would take the time to just love herself and I’m hoping one day she’ll get to that point.

There are, however, healthy cases as well. I’ve always had pretty happy with myself and who I am, but when I started dating my husband he really brought it out in me more. He’s helped me grow into the person I am today and he’s still helping me grow. There were definitely times when I relied on him totally for my happiness, but over time I realized that /I/ need to make me happy first and foremost.

Sorry for the long-winded comment 😛

January 28, 2013 - 11:08 am

April Books & Wine - I read Uses For Boys and fell into the MEH camp. Like, for me personally, it was a little much — like I get that sex can be gross, but I don’t know, it just was too much. And far from being sex positive, I felt like it was kind of the opposite — like look at all the bad things that will happen if you do ‘it’ – Anna loses her friends and drops out of school.

But.

Going back to your question — I kind of think that Anna totally did follow in her mom’s footsteps, I don’t know that she was doomed or anything, but like even in the end she was still looking for a dude’s approval (Sam) and while he’s a good guy and all, I still sort of felt like it was just like her mom to seek validation.

Plus, okay even thinking more about this, I am getting heated up because the insinuation that if one doesn’t have a male parent, one will not turn out okay gets me mad. Like, I’m not sure that I believe that. And I know, I know anecdotal evidence does not mean a thing, but I know a ton of people who had single parents and they turned out thriving and fine and well adjusted. It just, ugh, it annoys me. And while I am not sure that’s what the author was driving it, that seems kind of like an underlying message.

January 25, 2013 - 6:10 am

Lori - This is a very thought provoking book and I think you said everything so well. I really enjoyed the story. I knew a lot of girls that turned to sex and boys as a way of escaping something and this was the first time I’ve ever come across a YA book about it. I also really loved the writing style. It was so unique and like you said, it worked!

January 24, 2013 - 9:46 pm

Bookworm1858 - This book was so hard for me to read precisely because of those decisions…and the fact that I felt so distanced from Anna-I had no idea why she chose to make the decisions she did because they are so far from my own life experience.

January 24, 2013 - 1:49 pm

Asheley Tart (@BookwormAsheley) - I LOVED this book, so much, and part of that for me was Scheidt’s writing style. Scheidt has a wonderfully blunt, choppy, flowy style that I connect to as a reader, speaker, and blogger. I am already excited for whatever her next writing venture will be because I really enjoy writing like that. (My mind thinks in that same style and format.)

I also loved this story a lot, and I think that is really special considering I’m extremely new to the YA contemporary scene. This is one of the heaviest ‘issues’ books I’ve read, and I think Anna is one of the most unique voices out there. Unfortunately, she represents a very real part of the demographic, and I think this author captured that so well. I know this because of my job experience as a OB/GYN/L&D nurse. That is not a spoiler for the book, for those who may not have read it yet – it is merely an observation from a women’s health perspective and a remark on my career and experiences. I also understand from both the standpoint of a person who has read the book and cringed AND as a women’s health nurse that works with EXACTLY this population – I understand why lots of people will probably not like this book. It’s hard to read and to know stuff like this.

Also from my personal experience, I have thankfully not followed in my parents’ footsteps. I am not Anna and have never had the experiences of Anna – but I can certainly understand that Anna felt a void. I do not understand her actions – why she let the behavior on the bus begin and the snowballing from there, like you mention – but I do believe that in the absence of good parenting, *sometimes* all it takes is a little bit of nurturing from other places – teachers, friends’ parents, etc – to entirely change a person’s life or perspective. To CHANGE a WHOLE, ENTIRE life, which is basically changing a generation or a legacy. I am a testament to that. I totally agree that it would be great to re-visit future Anna, like Ginger suggests. I would love to know that the hope I felt at the end of the book turned into something positive for her character.

Also, I think it is super cool when one book can make so many different people think so many different things. Great post, Magan.

January 24, 2013 - 10:34 am

Alexa Y. - I just finished reading this last Sunday, and I must say, the subject matter really got me thinking as well. It’s interesting to consider how Anna’s lack of a mother’s influence in her life, and the lack of a father might have affected her outlook on her own life and relationships. That might have played a part, but I also think that a lot of what Anna did go through was something that she chose without thinking too much about it and going on her impulses.

Your post has got me thinking. I’ll probably come back later with an even more coherent response.

January 24, 2013 - 8:34 am

Ginger @ GReads! - This book has become such a hot topic to discuss. I think it’s a nod to the author for creating literature that gets people talking, don’t you? I know you and I have discussed this in thorough detail, so I won’t rehash everything. But from reading your questions above, it made me consider this… do you think sometimes people (especially young, impressionable people) make bad/wrong decisions just because? Like maybe there isn’t some huge meaning behind.. sometimes those decisions are just made & thus it becomes a catalyst for where the rest of their life takes them? I would like to revisit Anna several years down the road & hear her thoughts on how she views her childhood/teenage years. I have a feeling it would be very different. At least I hope so.

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