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.
(Summary from GoodReads)
Look at that cover. It makes Uses for Boys look like a read that will have rough spots, but also be very sweet, which is what I expected going into this book. In her review, Jen of Makeshift Bookmark compared this book to the movie Thirteen, and that is spot on. From my perspective, reading the plot and character arc of Uses for Boys was like watching a train crash. Uses for Boys is an important book of acceptable literary quality, but not one I particularly enjoyed reading.
Before we go any further, I should clarify a few things. I was raised in an upper middle class home. My loved ones have been teaching me about feminism and healthy relationships from an early age. I understand that even though I’ll start have to paying back student loans soon, the benefits of my education, both college and graduate school, far outweigh the costs. If this doesn’t make sense now, it will after you read Uses for Boys.
I expected Anna to have grown up in a home without a lot of money. Although this was the case when she was young, her mother is actually fairly well off. Anna’s mother goes through several marriages—at least three are mentioned in the book—and has a lot of boyfriends. Thanks to the men in her life, Anna’s mother acquires nice things such as jewelry and new clothes. She’s never around, but she’s happy to give Anna the money to procure what she needs. Of course, as Anna becomes a teenager, she thinks that she has to perform certain favors in order to receive love from others.
The plot of Scheidt’s debut is lacking in purpose, and this is a personal pet peeve for me. I can see why some teens would want to read this story as Scheidt has written it, but I kept thinking of different ways the plot could go. Guys, Anna is an incredibly painful character to read about. Her personality isn’t as well fleshed out as it could be, and she makes a lot of poor decisions. When I got to the end of the book, I felt as though her character had not come as far as I’d like to see, and that was especially disappointing. I also don’t understand where Scheidt was going with Toy and her story.
As many problems as I have with this story, I have to admit that it belongs on teen shelves. Scheidt’s novel showcases that being privileged in one way does not mean that a person is privileged in ever way. For example, Anna’s mother has plenty of money, but Anna has unhealthy interpersonal relationships as a result. While I understand as an adult that being rich does not automatically mean your life is perfect, some teens may not, and this book will be eye-opening for them. Girls who have personally experienced slut-shaming will relate to Anna’s character, and Scheidt manages to show how negative slut-shaming can be without preaching to her reader.
Uses for Boys was a wash for me. I thought it needed to be longer with a better plot and more well-developed characters. Some readers, however, will appreciate and connect with Anna’s story much better than I did. I hope this book finds its audience.
Disclosure: I received an eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you!
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