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REVIEW: Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Dear Ms. Scheidt:

I think the blurb gives a fairly good feel for what kind of read this will be, but even so I don’t think I was prepared for the emotionality of it. The story is told in the first person present tense. The purpose of using this tense, generally, is for immediacy. The reader feels like she is there with the narrator and this is a powerful example of how effective the tecqnique can be.

Uses for Boys Erica Lorraine ScheidtIt was just Anna and her mother against the world and for a while that was enough for both of them. Anna would sleep with her mother and her mother would tell her stories of how wonderful it was that it was just the two of them. Around the time that Anna was 9, however, it ceased being enough for Anna’s mother. Anna’s mother started dating and Anna’s mother had time only for men. Anna was left terribly alone.

Anna began constructing her own stories, first to her stuffed animals and then to herself, as if she were narrating a story to a friend that she never had. When she encounters her first intimate touch at the age of 13 on the school bus, Anna started spinning stories of the boy who touched her and how that touch made her feel loved, wanted, special. The stories that Anna told herself weren’t in synchronicity¬†with the ones that were told about her – how she was a slut, easy, and accessible.

Shame, humiliation, and other summary words are never used because they aren’t necessary. The reader feels those emotions acutely even if Anna can’t articulate them. Maybe because Anna can’t articulate them, those emotions are all the more poignant.

She is as desperate for love and attention from a female friend as she is from the boys she encounters. Anna thinks she finds a friend who recounts stories of a relationship with a perfect boyfriend that takes her to parks and concerts and Anna is so incredibly envious of that. In her short life, there are just so few people who will love and protect her. Her mother is absent, both in mind and body, and at age 14 Anna can nearly set up house with another boy in the same residence as her mother but without her mother’s notice. The story was so heartwrenching in places, I had to take breaks.

I needed it to turn around for Anna and by the end, we were on the road to somewhere more hopeful but the movement toward something positive away from her heartbreaking tragedy was uneven. I also think the blurb gives the idea that there is a greater romance here than is included. And I don’t think Sam teaches her anything. It’s what Sam has, how he lives, that provides her hope. It’s his mother’s strong involvement in his life that Anna responds to. She wants to please Sam’s mother almost as much as she wants to please Sam himself.

I was convinced at the end of the book that Anna had come to a sense of self worth that she hadn’t begun the book with but it was self worth gained at a steep price. I read a number of reviews that called Anna a slut and a whore and I was so sad because the entire story was about how a young girl pursues sexual intimacy because that is the only way she can find the love feeling she misses in her home life. Anna isn’t a slut or a whore at all but a girl who is incredibly lonely and wants only to be loved. She thinks love is whenever someone touches her or pays attention to her and the only people that do that are boys, some who think they love her back and some who use her and some who even rape her. Interestingly, I think Anna has intimate relations with 4-5 boys in the story. But I guess her age and the fact that she participates in sexual acts with more than one boy makes her a slut or a whore.

I almost learned more about females from reading the various responses to Uses for Boys. It’s almost like a Rorsach test. It’s not that this book is perfectly written. The deep stream of conscious, often stilted prose can prevent some from connecting. Anna’s narration is disjointed at times, sometimes skipping backward in time without a clear signal. But the story itself is a powerful one even if imperfectly written. B

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

8 Comments

  1. Ashley
    Jan 15, 2013 @ 08:33:44

    I saw some reviews of this on Goodreads. Some of them I was taken aback by because they called the main character a slut or a whore. Others like yours took a different stance, and those are the ones that made me want to read this book. I’m not usually one for books as heart wrenching as this one sounds like it will be, but if just the reviews alone make me feel for a character like the ones I’ve read for this book sometimes have, I have to give the book a try. Too bad the ebook is ten bucks. I hope it goes on sale sometime soon.

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  2. Brie
    Jan 15, 2013 @ 09:40:56

    I agree with everything you said, and just wanted to add that what Sam and his family do for Anna is show her some compassion and see the person behind the behavior. They don’t judge her, instead, they try to understand and help her. And that’s what makes all the difference.

    The book left me heartbroken. I’m glad it exists, but reading it wasn’t the easiest experience. In a world where slut-shaming is the norm (just take a look at some of the reviews), I think this book’s message is as current and important as it gets.

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  3. henofthewoods
    Jan 15, 2013 @ 12:27:50

    Slut and whore are the words we use for women who are “incredibly lonely and want only to be loved”.

    There are other situations that lead people to use those words too, but most of the reasons that people use the words are just nasty and hateful.

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  4. Lauren
    Jan 15, 2013 @ 16:05:43

    This sounds interesting. I’m going to read it, and see, but it sounds like another mother/daughter learning lesson. After my twelve year old daughter read Twilight we had a chat about how unhealthy Bella’s relationship with Edward was. (I’m not even talking about the whole vampire plot – I just mean wanting to commit suicide and diving headfirst into depression because he left town.)

    This sounds like it could be another foray into relationships and how sex does not equal unconditional love.

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  5. Kaetrin
    Jan 15, 2013 @ 20:51:39

    This is what I said over at Brie’s blog:

    I haven’t read this one yet but it’s on my TBR. I expect it will resonate because, although I was a bit older and not quite so active I went through a similar phase of “looking for love in all the wrong places”, after my parents split up when I was 15. The motivation was similar if not the number of experiences (and I wasn’t branded with a bad reputation – mainly because everyone I knew was doing pretty much the same thing).

    This is the sort of book that should be in high school libraries IMO.

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  6. Robin/Janet
    Jan 16, 2013 @ 22:34:23

    I have been WAITING for this book based on your early buzz and can’t wait to read it. It’s rare I’ll pay $9.99 for a digital book, ESPECIALLY one from Macmillan, but I think these kinds of books are so important, and I just get so pissed off at the “slut” and “whore” reactions, that I figure my $10 is a pledge against the patriarchal crap those comments reflect and perpetuate (which, not coincidentally, is why stories like this need to be told & resonate with so many girls and women).

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  7. Janine
    Jan 17, 2013 @ 15:18:06

    This sounds like a heartbreaking book. Kudos to the author for tackling this subject.

    ReplyReply

  8. Jane’s Best of 2013
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 17:44:37

    […] Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. This book is not a romance but a haunting Young Adult novel about a young girl, ignored by her mother and abandoned by her biological father, who desperately wants the love of her mother. Her mother is too busy chasing after the next man to pay attention and at the precocious age of thirteen the girl learns that boys will pay attention to her in exchange for sexual favors. In those stolen moments on the way to school on the bus or the back hallways at school,¬†Anna thinks she finds a replacement but those feelings are illusory. All too soon the girls are shunning her and boys are treating her poorly but still Anna, like her mother, chases that elusive flame of love in the arms of the opposite sex. In the end, the great romance you want to see is the one Anna seeks the most – the love of her mother or a mother figure. You don’t get that as a reader because it’s not realistic, but I think the conclusion is just as satisfactory. […]

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