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Book Review: Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

It used to be Anna and her mom against the world.  But then her mom started dating, and soon Anna had a series of stepfathers and an increasingly distant mother.  When Anna discovered boys, she found that there were new ways to fill the emptiness inside her.  Boys can be her new family, and that’s what Anna tries to make happen with Desmond, and Joey, and Todd.  But Anna is always left alone, with only her friend Toy to comfort her.  It isn’t until she meets Sam and is accepted into his family that she begins to understand what real love is–and what’s at stake if she were to lose it.

Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s debut is a tricky novel to write about, because the basic premise is going to be polarizing.  Readers are going to be divided on whether or not this one works for them.  Some readers will get it and love it while others will get it and be uncomfortable with the message it leaves them with.  Still others will miss the point and resort to troubling and misguided slut-shaming while proclaiming that they aren’t, you know, for the whole slut-shaming thing.  For this particular reader, the book works on every level, making it a powerful, raw, and oftentimes disturbing read.  This one should be in every library.

Scheidt’s spare, brilliant prose feels deliberate on every page.  As she unfolds Anna’s story, the reader can feel Anna’s pain as she is left increasingly alone by her mother.  The emotions in this story are palpable, and Anna’s voice is unfailingly authentic.  Anna is a tough nut to crack, but it’s worth the reader’s time and investment to get to know her.  She’s vulnerable but resilient, resourceful and, most important, real.

There’s a lot to unpack in this slim, sparse novel.  Scheidt’s exploration of sex as a way of empowerment and as a way of destruction is unflinching in its portrayal of teen sexuality.  Anna is trying to figure out who she is in relation to herself and others through the use of sex, and this is going to make some people uncomfortable.  Again, this is important stuff, and it helps underscore how hard it is to figure out your sexuality in a world where it is not safe to do so.

Of course, there’s so much more that can be unpacked here: the murky life lessons that Anna is learning, the fact that she continues to repeat the same patterns of behavior, the fact that she continually allows herself to be defined by the boys in her life.  Anna’s friendship with Toy is fascinating and worth a closer look itself.  This is a book that begs to be read more than once.

Not for everyone, but definitely one that deserves to be talked about and thought about.  Scheidt is an author to watch, and Uses for Boys is one of my favorite reads of the year.

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt. St. Martin’s Press: 2013.  Library copy.




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