St. Martin's Press, 240 pages
Expected US Release Date: January 14, 2013
Source: NetGalley - thanks St. Martin's Press!
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.
"I love you," I say. But I don't need him anymore and he knows that.
"I've always loved you," he says. but it doesn't sound so romantic anymore.
But really. Heather said in her review that the word for this would be "unexpected," and it really is that. I had absolutely no idea what this book would turn out to be; not even after reading the summary. I knew some of the elements (you can't have "slut" in the summary without all the connotations and insinuations of that), and suspected some - but the reality? SO far from what I was thinking.
Let's get this out of the way: this book is raw and gritty. And I've used those words before in reviews, but I mean them in the most emotionally literal ways I can. This book doesn't hold back. There's mental abuse and sexual abuse and sexual discovery and a lot of uncomfortable moments - and I am no prude. There's family troubles, being lost, manipulation and using people and taking advantage of a girl who doesn't know better. There's relationships and all the bases and it tells you them. In a surprising amount of detail.
So be prepared for all that, if you read this book.
But here's what's also in store for you: a heartbreaking, sometimes disturbing, and surprisingly hopeful story of a girl forced to grow up in crummy situations and how she learns to deal with it. Sure, there's a loooot of detail, but there's also a lot of tenderness, and real feelings. Even though a lot of the time I wanted to shake Anna and tell her to snap out of her thoughts and woman up, I also wanted to protect her pretty fast. I just wanted to make things better for her and teach her what real love means and that no, a hand on your knee does not mean affection.
Watching Anna grow up and make mistakes was pretty tough, I won't lie - there are certain things I just wanted to push her out of the way of and steer her clear. I wanted to yell at her sometimes. But the moments when she really feels happy, when she feels like she's making sense of all the mixed messages her crap mother has sent her? It made my heart so full for her. There are moments of revelation and real love here, and I think they were made better because it was surrounded by such darker moments.
The main downfall for me were the characters. I couldn't stand Toy from the moment she and Anna met, and I thought she was so flimsy and see-through. It was never a surprise to me of what she was or who she turned out to be. I'm not a fan of Anna, though I admit that my frustration with her is probably what clouds that judgment. And each of the boys...yes, they had redeeming parts (especially Sam), but there were so many flaws in each one and very little for me to find something to love.
I have to comment on the writing, though: it's fabulous. It's got such a unique tone to it, and it presents the subject matter so perfectly. It fits Anna and her situation so well, and I think how it's written is the thing that ultimately saved this book and made it completely worth the read. If nothing else, read this book to understand how the writing itself can convey the story.