I think the majority of my feelings about the books I read come down to timing — how I am feeling, the book I’ve read just before, the weather, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, I cannot help but compare my current reads to my previous read, especially if the books have similar themes and are in the same genre. Y’all, this was kind of an issue for me when reading debut author Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s Uses For Boys. I guess I had all of these expectations going into it because my friends had enjoyed it, but I kept comparing Uses For Boys to The Sea Of Tranquility by Katja Millay, another tragedy girl book, and finding that Uses For Boys comes up short.
Uses For Boys opens with main character Anna telling us about her childhood, about how as a very little girl she lived in an apartment with her mom and her mom is all — I had you so that I wouldn’t be alone. Yet, as Anna gets old her mom decides Anna is not enough and thus looks for the affection of other men — going through a litany of stepdads for Anna. Of course, Anna internalizes this and pretty much mimics her mother. When Anna’s stepdad and stepbrothers move out, she finds herself alone in the giant house her mom and stepdad bought together. You see, Mom is out looking for a good time and a man, so she has like no time for her daughter. She’s pretty much a textbook case of neglectful parent. She clearly does not give a crap about her daughter. So anyways, Anna begins to turn to boys for comfort and makes the decision to let boys use her for sexual favors so that she can feel loved. Oh, and she has a best friend with the name Toy which I just couldn’t get over as a name. Who names their kid Toy? There was no mention of Toy’s parents being celebrities so I am sure that is not the case. ALSO, the official summary describes a boy named Sam, but do not be fooled he doesn’t show up until you are 68% of the way through Uses For Boys – I know this because I just did a Kindle search for Sam.
I hate saying this because it makes me feel awful as a human being but I wasn’t all that enamored with Anna as a character. Yes, I felt for her situation and thought what she was going through and her reactions were depressing and awful. However, all I know about Anna after finishing the book is that she has sex a lot and that she wears second hand clothes and has a neglectful mom and no dad. Yes. That is legit it. I don’t know her hobbies or her favorite color or what makes her tick. I don’t know her habits. I just felt like I didn’t get to know her as a fully-fleshed, realized character. She just felt kind of one note oh poor tragedy me to me.
Yet, I found that I really enjoyed Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s writing style. It’s snappy. It moves at a quick pace. Uses For Boys is told in first person through Anna’s thoughts. It’s very stream of consciousness and I like that. It’s very different in form than what I am used to. Like, I am used to either verse or straight up prose without sentence fragments or anything. I thought that the fragments were a good choice because it gives us readers a glimpse into how Anna thinks and why she keeps obsessing over the mother/father/family thing and how it crops into her thinking ALL THE TIME.
HOWEVER, just because I dug the writing style does not mean I don’t have any hang ups with Uses For Boys, because I do. First off, every other chapter is sexing. And not the sexytimes sexing, the this is making my skin crawl sort of sexing. And here is the thing — I am probably one of the most liberal bloggers out there when it comes to books that have sex in them. I’m not the type to go all prude about sex. But this book honestly made me feel so uncomfortable and squicked out about it. And I know it’s there to illustrate the bad decisions/repercussions of Anna’s upbringing, but seriously it was graphic for even me. AND I KNOW TEENS DO IT. I know that and I like never ever complain sex in books, but for me, personally, this was a little TOO MUCH. Also? I thought that the whole Sam thing was totally rushed. Based on the official synopsis, I went in expecting like at least 50% of the book to be focused on Anna and Sam and how he changes her life, in maybe a sort of My Life Next Door way, but I did not get that. Instead, Sam’s on page time is very short and not at all what I was hoping for.
I guess I have a truly hard time saying who should read this book and who should maybe stay away. If you are uncomfortable with teenage sexytimes, this is probably not the book for you, and that is perfectly valid and fine to feel that way. If you like books about tragic girls, then you should definitely check out Uses For Boys. Jen, at Makeshift Bookmark mentioned the film Thirteen in her review and I think I have to truly agree with her assessment. Like, I think maybe my shoulder-shrug feelings to Uses For Boys are related to my feelings for the movie Thirteen. I was not a huge fan of that movie, but my sister loved it and made me watch it because she was so sure that I would love it. But I was like, ok this is an uncomfortable trainwreck oh no why is she doing that with the tattoo artist AHHH! SO maybe here’s the thing, if you loved the film Thirteen, you’ll probably l-o-v-e Uses For Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. Or if you are like me and think, ugh this is just TOO uncomfortable to sit through, you might not love this book.
Disclosure: Received for review via Netgalley.
Other reviews of Uses For Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt:
Into The Hall Of Books – “I want people to know how great it is, and well-written.”