Title: Uses For Boys
Author: Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Genre: YA Fiction
Published: January 2013, St. Martin’s Griffin
Synopsis: Anna is alone. She has a mother, sort of. She has no father. She never has. She’s trying to grow up on her own, desperately searching for a place to belong or some sort of sign that she’s on the right path, that where she is now is where she’s supposed to be. Every time she makes a new decision– a new apartment, a new friend, a new boy– she hopes it’s the one that will finally make her life make sense. “Tell me again,” she says. Will she ever find a reason to smile?
- Nobody wants to be in the lying house. The stepbrothers stay away. They go to their mother’s. They stay with friends. Their rooms are empty. My mom and the stepdad leave early to go to work. They come home late. They come in after I’m supposed to be asleep. They lean and laugh in the hall, bumping into things. They speak too loudly. My mom opens the door and asks why I left the TV on, why all the lights are on. Her voice is strange. Then she walks away leaving the door open and I hear them leaning and bumping in their room.
- It’s still hot when the school year starts. All the kids already know each other and I am too something for them. Too quiet or strange. Too sad, one girl says.
- She thinks each Charlie or James or Michael is unique. She forgets the things she says about this one are the same as the things she said about that one. She believes that each one is the one and she says each name like it’s the only man’s name she’s ever said. Tonight she says James like it’s a magic word. She’s going to stay with James, she says.
- Joey changed everything for me, I want to tell her. I’m not alone. The place where my hand fits in his, that place, that feeling? I belong there.
- Toy is the star of her stories. Events orbit her like a constellation.
- She’s wearing high-heeled burgundy shoes with straps around the ankle and there’s a streak of orangey makeup on her collar. I wonder if she’s getting old and if this is what it’s going to be like. Bits of her coming off on her clothes.
- She has dreadlocks and I think, I always think this when I see girls with dreadlocks, that she knows something about herself that I don’t know about myself.
- “I couldn’t figure out,” I’d say, “why the boys in my life were nothing like the boys in yours.”
Review: This book reminds me of the way I felt when I was a teenager. Our situations were nothing alike, but I can identify with the overall feeling– not knowing where you’re going, where you belong, if you’re lovable. The early teenage years are a tough few for everyone, I think. Hell, those are themes I still battle with. Anna clearly struggles with depression, and she does tend towards destructive behavior (for a sixteen year old), such as drinking and sex with strangers. I feel like a lot of adults don’t realize that sometimes kids really, really struggle. That depression isn’t just something that adults face. That just because they look good on the outside doesn’t mean they don’t spend their time fighting off demons. It’s always refreshing to see such things explored in novels because it tells me that some people do get it.
This story is beautifully written. You get right into Anna’s head, no holds barred. You see the world straight through her eyes. You hear the stories she makes up in her head, longing to share them with other people. You see the way she looks at Toy, wanting to become her. The way she sees Sam’s family, the way they love each other so purely. I love the descriptions, the way Anna’s always looking at people, trying to figure out what they have that she doesn’t. Contentment. She says at one point, “At the cafe I stare in people’s faces and they catch me, watching. I’m looking for something. Someone. Some sign that I’ve changed.” It’s always jarring to me to read something that so closely identifies the feelings you struggled with in your youth. My entire experience could be summed up with that quote.
Anna, I think, just wants security. Not in the form of doors and locks, but in the knowledge that she is loved, that all the stories she’s heard all her life aren’t just fairy tales, that she can be safe in someone’s arms. Of course, real life intervenes, and it takes a couple of tries to get it right. (Again, something everyone can identify with.)
Thank you to the lovely Sophie for recommending this book to me!