‘Uses For Boys’ Is Grim, Gritty And Heartbreakingly Real

With a title like “Uses for Boys,” and a pretty picture of two kissing teens entwined in Christmas lights on the cover, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s book was a sweet, fluffy, young-adult romance. But, uh, you guys? IT’S NOT.

And we think that’s a good thing.

“Uses for Boys” is the story of Anna, the only child of a single mom whose only interest is finding her next husband…and the next, and the next. Left behind while her mother chases one new life after another, toted along like baggage to each new marriage and set of step-relatives, Anna grows up isolated in every sense of the word. But when she turns 14, she discovers a way to fill the emptiness: the title’s useful and ever-present boys.

The book follows Anna through a series of relationships: some happy, some flawed, and some the stuff of nightmares, as she tries to escape her loneliness in the only way she knows how. This isn’t a feel-good story. Loneliness bleeds from every page, and even as Anna finds hope—in a new boy, a new dress, a picture torn out from a magazine of the girl she wishes she were—it’s painfully clear to the reader that these are a few bright spots in a landscape of gray desperation. And even when she meets Sam, who shows her by example just how much she’s truly missing, it’ll take more than the right guy to stop her from self-destruction by stagnation.

“Uses for Boys” is a book that’s sure to be polarizing in its content. The combination of dreamy writing and frank sexuality makes for an unusual read, and the inside of Anna’s head is a hard place to be at the best of times. This is a bleak world, where hope appears only rarely, in small amounts, and no one expects it to stick around. But what makes Anna—and her story—incredible is depth. Scheidt’s narrative never falters, and she’s achieved something rare with Anna in creating a teenage girl who feels raw and real and present: headstrong, vulnerable, deeply mistrustful of the world that’s failed her, and content to find her happiness in fragments. And from beginning to end, in good times and bad, her voice rings true.

Do you plan to read “Uses for Boys”?