Saturday, January 12, 2013
Just Finished Reading ... Uses for Boys
by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
To be published by St. Martin's Press
on January 15, 2013
Source: e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.
My summary: Anna is desperately lonely. Her mother is always putting on make-up and a new dress to chase that next guy, leaving Anna alone. There's always a new date, then a new husband, a new house to live in, and the inevitable divorce. Anna has to fend for herself, to fend off the boys who want too much. She just wants to be loved.
My take: Uses for Boys is a gritty contemporary YA about a girl left alone to parent herself. There's a lot of mature content here, and some dark subject material.
My heart went out to Anna, who is constantly left alone while her mother goes off on one date after another, marries a new guy, then splits up with him and starts the process over. It's hard not to feel heartbroken for her, to feel her loneliness as her mother goes off again and again, to watch both Anna and her mother make all sorts of terrible decisions just to feel important to someone, if only for a short time.
Although Anna is an extremely sympathetic character, I can't say I found her a very interesting one until pretty far into the book. As a result of both her mother's horrible parenting and a traumatic experience she suffers, Anna dissociates herself a lot of the time, seeming to leave her body and watch herself from outside. She has also absorbed her mother's skewed view of the world, in which there is a perfect man somewhere around the corner, a prince hidden somewhere in a pond of toads. Anna's mother is obsessed with her appearance, and so Anna is constantly plotting out perfect outfits for herself as a way to control her surroundings. I understood where the author was going with this, but this part of the book went on a litttle too long for me.
Things got considerably more interesting when Anna met Sam, one in a line of many guys she attaches herself to. But unlike the other guys, Sam isn't a world-weary sixteen year-old like Anna. He's a real teenager, a kid who lives with his family in a middle-class world that couldn't be more different from Anna's.
This was where Uses for Boys really started to grab me.Watching Anna negotiate Sam's ordinary suburban life makes her realize all that she's missed out on. Sam's parents are understandably wary that their son's new girlfriend is a high school dropout who lives alone and works at a coffee house. The juxtaposition of their two worlds was what make the book come alive for me, and I wished that the first part of the book had been shorter and the second half longer. While I didn't expect a happily ever after, I would have liked to see Anna take at least a couple steps toward creating a life for herself that didn't involve giving herself to any guy who showed interest.
Uses for Boys isn't going to be a book for everyone, but there was something about it that will stick with me, and I'll be watching to see what Erica Lorraine Scheidt writes next.