Her bed is a raft on the ocean. It’s a cloud, a forest, a spaceship, a cocoon we share. I stretch out big as I can, a five-pointed star, and she bundles me back up in her arms. When I wake I’m tangled in her hair.
That’s Anna, protagonist of Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s YA novel Uses for Boys, remembering. She remembers a time before stepfathers and step brothers, a time she calls the “tell-me-again-times.” Those were the times when her mother would gather her up and tell her how much she was wanted, “more than anything in the world.”
Unhappily for Anna, the “tell-me-again” times don’t last long. By the time Anna is eight her mother insists that she is “too big for stories.” It’s also the time that Anna’s mother decides that she is tired of being alone and ventures out to meet a man and it seems just about any man will do. Early on Anna learns the lessons that her mother teaches: men will leave.
Despite its cover depicting kissing teens wrapped in twinkley lights, Uses for Boys is mostly the grim story of Anna’s search for unconditional love – the love she should have received from her mother if her mother had bothered to pay attention. Instead, Anna must seek it elsewhere and she does it by chasing (mostly) sexual relationships with boys.
First there’s Desmond who sticks his hand on Anna’s thirteen-year-old breast on the school bus in full view of his friends. Then there’s Joey. And Todd. You get the picture. It isn’t until Anna meets Sam and his family that Anna realizes what she’s been looking for (and willing to give away to get it): family.
“Sam’s house is everything I wanted, but didn’t know to want.” Anna says about her first visit to Sam’s house. “I want to wrap myself in this house like a blanket.”
It’s hard not to sympathize with Anna. She has a nice home but a mostly absent mother. No one has guided her to make wise choices about her body or to value herself as a person, so it’s difficult to blame her when she makes poor decisions. Scheidt’s writing is often poetic although I’m not sure if that makes Anna’s life any easier to bear.