Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Publication Date: January 15, 2013
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
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?