book cover for Uses for Boys

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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Rather Be Reading Review of Return to Me by Justina Chen

Magan: Return to Me by Justina Chen

Rather Be Reading Review of Return to Me by Justina ChenReturn to Me by Justina Chen
Publication Date
: January 15, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: Divorce, College, Sixth Sense, Long-Distance Relationships
Format read: ARC received at ALA

Summary: Rebecca is on the brink of beginning her architectural education at Columbia; her parents have packed up their belongings to move from Seattle to New Jersey (yay?). Days after their relocation, Reb’s father announces that he’s been seeing another woman and abandons his family.

For those of you that loved North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, I am so hesitant to write this review. I, too, loved that book and had extremely high expectations of Return to Me. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the same deep emotional connection with the characters, nor did I feel as rooted in the story.

My expectations for Return to Me were much different than the story that unfolded in the pages. I assumed Reb would be struggling to put her life back together while maintaining a long distance relationship and college. Much of the story is internal as Reb tries to answer the “What will I do with my life now?” question. Her father’s deception causes her to second guess every aspect of her life, which was often frustrating because she realizes how many of her decisions were made to make him happy. She begins distrusting Jackson, her boyfriend, as if her father’s affair has flipped a switch in her. She plays a game of cat and mouse with him as she tries to sort through all of her emotions. Reb’s uneasiness made me dislike her character and hate how she was toying with someone else’s life, much like her father had been manipulating hers.

One of my biggest dilemmas with Return to Me was the quick and abrupt decision-making on behalf of Reb, the main character. One moment she’s completely invested in making her relationship work long distance with Jackson, and the next page, she’s withdrawn and has a completely different outlook. Her actions weren’t always easy to understand, weren’t explained well, and were extremely contradictory. I do understand that a girl reeling from her father’s abandonment would be imbalanced and uncertain, but minimizing the amount of back-and-forth action would have made Reb a more relatable character.

There is also a psychic/intuition/sixth sense element that really detached me from the story. Reb had disturbing visions when she thought about her family’s move, as if she knew something terrible was going to happen. Reb and the women in her family have a way of getting glimpses of the future; her negative feelings were a warning for her father’s unfaithfulness. Oftentimes, Reb would have a vision or a back story would be told that had no context to support the story; this element seemed to justify information that wasn’t necessary and, as a reader, I only felt more confused.

Overall, the story could have been more focused. If the sixth sense aspect of the story had been disregarded, the story would have flowed better and negated some of the unnecessary confusion and complexity. The timing and pacing could have benefitted from more fine tuning and made the story more believable. Though I desperately wanted to love another of Chen’s book, Return to Me sadly wasn’t a hit for me and left me feeling like I should not finished it and, instead, moved on to something I would have enjoyed more.

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Estelle: The Stalker Chronicles by Carley Moore

The Stalker Chronicles by Carley Moore (website | twitter)
Upcoming Release Date: March 27, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 240
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format read: ARC paperback received at ALA (Thank you!)

Summary: Cammie isn’t the best at talking to guys. In fact, she has a reputation at school for being stalker. A label she is desperately trying to leave in the past. When the mysterious yet cute Toby arrives in town, she believes he is her chance to be “normal” when it comes to pursuing guys. Even with the help of her best friend, she realizes escaping her talent for observation might be harder than she thought… especially when life keeps throwing her some unexpected curveballs.

These days it is uncanny how easy it is to keep track of people. With Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, we are constantly keeping tabs on people we know (or knew). (Don’t lie. You know you do it.) But in the case of the internet, the success of your stalking depends on the person — how much they update, what they choose to share, etc. The old fashioned way though… that’s different story. It takes a little more effort, some thought.

And Cammie, the main character of The Stalker Chronicles, is pretty talented and relentless when it comes to that old-fashioned way of doing things. It’s not because she wants to hurt anyone or publicize someone’s private life or anything. Deep down, she really wants people to like her.  She really wants to know things about people. So she takes a leap and in the past, landed on her face. So many times that she is sweetly known as the “stalker” in school. She can’t seem to get people to forget all she has done (photos, notes, phone calls, trash cans, etc.) and at the same time, can’t stop doing it. It’s like an addiction.

Then new boy Toby shows up. Finally! Someone who may not know the total truth about her. And she makes him a challenge for herself. Can she get him to like her without overdoing it like she’s done in the past? But when he starts missing school and ya know she walks in the boy’s restroom to find him (ha), she discovers Toby may have his own secret past and Cammie sort of reverts back into her stalking ways.

I liked Cammie as a character a lot. In ways, the books reminded me of Various Positions (review to come) and not in the overly sexualized way. But in the way that author Carley Moore gave us a glimpse into the inner workings of a young girl, the crevices no one cares to admit because it’s too shameful. With Cammie, there is nothing left unspoken. She is blatantly honest. Matter of fact. You are able to establish a relationship with her, experience her mistakes, and root for her along the way.

Family also plays a HUGE part in this story. While Cammie is dealing with her own demons, her parents’ marriage is beginning to deteriorate and we see how Cammie’s stalking plays a part in how she deals with this shift in her household. In a lot of the young adult books I’ve read, parents are already divorced and the process of separation rarely takes centerstage. I thought this element of TSC was very strong and true to life. I also enjoyed Cammie’s relationship with her brother. I like siblings who are different but nice. (Cammie and her brother are only a year apart but their age difference seems much larger… you’ll see.)

There are many funny and cringe-worthy moments in The Stalker Chronicles. In the end, it’s the portrait of a girl who wears her self-consciousness on her sleeve. While she displays a certain awareness of all that goes on with kids her age, she does act younger than a typical sophomore in high school. Her immaturity is due to lack of experience and the lack of experience is due to her tendency to blurt out whatever pops into her head and her desire for people to like her and accept her. Who can’t relate to those feelings? I know that I certainly can.

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