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Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Today’s review is of one of the more controversial books on Goodreads at the moment, and one that Katy and I vehemently disagree on, Uses for Boys. As a word of warning, the subject matter of the book deals with sex, rape, and abortion, and is quite graphic and disturbing at times, so while this is marketed towards a young adult audience, Katy and I both advise discretion when deciding whether to pick this up. As for the reasons for our disagreement, read on.

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Uses for Boys
by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Uses for Boys

By: Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Release Date: January 15, 2013

Katy’s Rating: 4 stars

Mitch’s Rating: 1 star

Summary: Anna remembers a time before boys, when she was little and everything made sense. When she and her mom were a family, just the two of them against the world. But now her mom is gone most of the time, chasing the next marriage, bringing home the next stepfather. Anna is left on her own—until she discovers that she can make boys her family. From Desmond to Joey, Todd to Sam, Anna learns that if you give boys what they want, you can get what you need. But the price is high—the other kids make fun of her; the girls call her a slut. Anna’s new friend, Toy, seems to have found a way around the loneliness, but Toy has her own secrets that even Anna can’t know.Then comes Sam. When Anna actually meets a boy who is more than just useful, whose family eats dinner together, laughs, and tells stories, the truth about love becomes clear. And she finally learns how it feels to have something to lose—and something to offer. Real, shocking, uplifting, and stunningly lyrical, Uses for Boys is a story of breaking down and growing up.

Katy’s Review:

Warning: This is NOT a cute YA romance. It’s crass. It’s disturbing. And it’s definitely for a more mature audience who can handle a distasteful subject. Many readers will not like this book. Some will not get very far. But I was prepared, so I knew what I was getting myself into.

I actually found that the book did a great job telling the story about what happens to many, many girls out there (and believe me, I have seen it happen to others too many times). I like the simplicity of the book (some will not) and how it got to the core of the situation. The author did not try to overdramatize what was going on or bogged the reader with an influx of emotions.

The story began with a girl who was the soul object of her mother’s love. It was just the two of them, and the Anna had a child-like way of adoring her mother, who was her everything. But things began to change, and Anna is desperately crying out for attention but just doesn’t know how. This, of course, has a huge effect on her, as she learns to deal with boys with no one really giving her any direction.

I admit, I was a bit taken aback at first – shocked that she was so young and digusted by the nature of what happened. At the same time, I was fascinated with what was going through Anna’s head – the naivety of it all, thoughts of how she was going to retell the story, insecurity of what was going to happen next. Anna showed a lot of character development as she progressed from innocent to ignorant to detached to understanding.

For me, it wasn’t mind-blowing, and I can’t really say that I LIKED the book. Still, I really appreciated the simplicity of it, and Scheidt’s ability to depict what could be a totally believable real-life story without going overboard in an attempt putting our emotional strings.

 

Mitch’s Review:

I think I can count on one hand the number of times a book has been as off its mark and gone as awry as Uses for Boys. To be perfectly clear, I understand Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s intention to write a character study of a neglected girl who turns to meaningless sex as her sole source of solace, and I came into the book expecting mature and graphic content, so my criticism is not of those elements per se. No, my problem is that Scheidt seems to rely on shock value alone to carry the narrative without any overarching compelling message or theme, so all I’m left with at the end of this is a collection of ever more disturbing scenes and some very unpleasant implications.

A big part of it too is the writing. I actually liked the first couple of chapters, because there’s a simple, innocent quality to Anna’s voice, particularly with the sentence structure and the length of each chapter. I really felt Scheidt captures the voice of a seven year old in a believable way, and that authenticity really added that extra emotional punch to this story of neglect, emptiness, and failed relationships. But where Scheidt fails though, is avoiding a trap that catches a lot of unwary authors of books that take place over a period of years, she never ages Anna’s voice as the girl herself goes from a seven year old to eight to ten and then into her teens. When the only clue I have of Anna’s actual age is her saying something to the effect of ‘guess what, I’m [insert age] now!’ – no, that is not successful writing. Still, even then that wouldn’t normally warrant such utter distaste on my part, I mean, if I read a thirteen year old girl saying this:

She says that since I’m a big girl now, I can feed myself and put myself to bed.

Well, I’d just have a good laugh about it. Except – that’s not all Anna’s doing, she’s also engaged in sex, and when she’s telling it in a seven year old’s voice, that’s my problem. Who beyond a pedophile would want to read sex scenes written from the frame of mind of a seven year old?

In addition to the skeevy implications of narrating sex scenes with a seven year old’s voice, Scheidt’s failure to age Anna’s voice also causes a host of other issues – like, say, the cavalier treatment of forcible rape, statutory rape, abortion, and neglect. Ok, I get I’m supposed to be outraged by what Todd does, I know that’s the intent of that scene, but in conjunction with everything that happens with Josh, with Anna’s mother, with Desmond, you know what all of it says? Society has failed this girl, completely failed her, and I ended up despising not only the characters Scheidt intended for me to hate, like Anna’s mother, but also the characters she intended to be sympathetic, like Jane. Why? Because they all failed Anna – Jane failed Anna even though I get she’s intended as the sympathetic ear at the abortion clinic when Anna’s going through one of the toughest periods of the book, because, maybe it’s just me, but when a pregnant teenager goes to an abortion clinic with a good for nothing boyfriend and an absentee mother you do not just give her an abortion and send her on her way, you ask questions, like ‘how are you doing?’ and try to get her the help she needs. Because nobody should be able to get away with saying something like:

I drop out of school. It’s easy. I get a paper and sign it. I leave it on the kitchen table for my mom to sign. The school signs it. School’s over.

Because if Anna had gotten the help she obviously needs, the rest of the book wouldn’t have been necessary. Because, even if many, many kids still slip through the cracks every single day, that doesn’t mean we should stop giving a damn. Except, Uses for Boys obviously isn’t an expose on society’s failures, neither Jane nor anyone else is called out for having failed Anna, and the only thing I’m left to conclude is that the book is perfectly fine with how god damn awful everything is and glossing over how so many people should’ve spoken out but didn’t as long as Anna shows some character growth in the end.

Finally, that brings me to this book’s treatment of guys, which has left me appalled, outraged, and repulsed. I’m not going to quibble over meaningless generalizations like this:

Boys want to touch you. They want to stuff their hands up your shirt or down your pants. They want you to touch them. Boys say things like, “See how hard you make me?”

But I will say there was not a single likeable male character in the entire book. Yes, I get Scheidt’s intent is to portray Anna as broken because her father abandoned her, and then a string of male characters like Desmond, Joey, and Todd obviously failed her, but I’m not talking about them. I’m not even talking about Josh, who fronts Anna money just to get rid of his problem rather than having an actual conversation, because he wasn’t supposed to be the good guy. I’m talking about how much I despise Sam. For someone who’s written as actually caring, for someone who’s written as the one to show Anna the value of a good home, wow it doesn’t take him long to get into Anna’s pants. For Scheidt to have the gall of portraying him as the savior, someone who’s better than Desmond and Joey and Todd when he’s no better than any of them, and maybe even worse because he betrays the very morals he’s supposed to represent, that is just appalling. I’m sure the ending will get a positive response from many people simply because Anna finds a place where she belongs, but for me, when that place is with Sam, I am completely repulsed.

I get Erica Lorraine Scheidt set out to write a touching story of a broken girl who finally learns something after years of neglect and sexual abuse. What she’s actually written though is a story as vile as Fanny Hill with just as much gravitas and depth. At least John Cleland knew what he was doing.

 

Katy’s Rebuttal:

About the situation being “glossed over” – I don’t think this book “gloss over” about how people should speak out. The reality is, hardly anyone ever does. They’re scared. They think people won’t believe them. They think, “What’s the point?” My sister is a social worker, so she sees things like this happen every day. I’ve been in sexual offense court cases where the victim talks about not talking, to which the DA says afterwards that many, many victims never really step up. Is it okay? Of course not. But the point is, it’s sad how many people will actually turn the other way (especially if it’s like some golden boy) instead of helping the victim. And it’s sad that this happens way too much in this society.

About her voice not aging – She never really “grew up” because no one was there to help her. By the end of the book, sans the last few chapters, she was still the same naive girl who thought love and sex was one thing when it really wasn’t. No one was there to teach her. And no one was there for her to talk to – her mom checked out, Toy always interrupted her. So in a way, she was more “experienced,” but she hadn’t grown any – until the end.

About the writing – I just thought the writing reflects the situation so well. It was crass. It was simple. Instead of bogging it down with over-emotion or descriptions of the severity of the situation, it was kind of ignorant-sounding and detached, which is the voice I expect to hear from the book. I just think there are a lot of Anna’s out there, who DO speak/think in the tone of this book. We don’t like it because we are blessed that we aren’t put in that situation. But the reality is, that’s the way life is for them. And I applaud the author for having the guts to write a book like that – knowing people are really going to be turned off by it. For me, if you’re going to do something like that, you have to do it right. Otherwise, what’s the point.

I “liked” this book because it was different from your same o same o about the same subject. But then again, it’s not for everyone.

 

Mitch’s Response:

Ok, I get it. You’re responding to how realistic Anna’s situation is from the beginning of the book to the end. That’s fine. Mine is just frustration and anger because it seemed to me like the book was saying, look, Anna’s becoming a better character now that she’s met Sam, but for me her ‘improvement’ is completely illusory.

Go to Katy’s review on Goodreads.
Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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  1. Katy
    January 19, 2013 at 7:16 am

    Hey! I wasn’t done! Actually. I don’t think it was Sam. It was her mother realizing that she hasn’t been a very good mom and when she realized that Toy’s stories were all fake and when Toy actually began giving her a chance to speak instead of interrupting her.

    If you just accept it was Sam, then yeah, it would be frustratingly shallow. It’s not just Sam is a great guy. He had a friendly family, and he had a supportive mom who adored her. That family is important bc she had no friends. And his mom is an important in the parent figure she lacked. Yeah Sam started it, but it goes much much deeper than that. If it was just a good guy alone, yeah I would be mad too. But it’s not.

    • deniz
      January 20, 2013 at 2:30 am

      I totally agree! i didnt think it had much to do with Sam– he just happened to be the first person she spent time with that came from a not totally broken family. I think that showed Anna that there is something else out there. She did realise that she does want change after the miscarriage. It took the those things (that katy describes) for her that there is actually some kinda hope that she might be able to.

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