My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’m really conflicted about Uses for Boys. It was a good book, but I don’t think like is quite the right word to use in this context. It deals with some pretty harsh subject matter: neglect, rape, abortion. I feel like, given Anna’s situation and who she is, this book was a realistic portrayal of her experience. Mostly, I felt very uncomfortable while reading her story.
From the beginning, there’s a sense of loneliness in Anna’s voice. She seems very distant as she narrates all of these experiences she has, almost like she’s watching them happen to her as opposed to being the one experiencing them. The novel as a whole feels a little disjointed because of this – it felt like there wasn’t a plot, so much as a string of experiences Anna has as a result of trying to fill the loneliness while her mother ignores her. It took a little while for me to get used to this format, but ultimately I think it suited the book.
I know a lot of readers are uncomfortable with the choices Anna makes, but the choices she makes aren’t necessarily choices we should be comfortable with. What bothers me is the response a lot of people have had to this book – condemning her and blaming her for the things that happen to her as a result of her choices instead of looking at the bigger issue, which is the neglect her poor choices are born out of. If anyone is to blame in this story, I think it’s Anna’s mother, who leaves her at home alone for days and weeks on end while she goes off and does her own thing, only remembering Anna exists when it’s convenient for her (like when her new boyfriend accuses her of being able to control her own daughter, for example). Does Anna make the best choices in regard to her loneliness? Not really. But what Anna – and real-life girls like Anna – needs is for people to help her, not people to blame her for the boys who use her.
One aspect of the story I thought a lot about was the sorts of boys Anna finds herself in relationships with. With the exception of Sam, all of the boys sensed Anna’s vulnerability and took advantage of that to get what they wanted. There were so many situations where I wished Anna would stand up for herself and realize she deserved better, but I also knew that with her deep need to be loved – and through that, her desire for proof that she was worth being loved – it wasn’t something that was going to just happen.
Uses for Boys is a difficult book to read, and it’s going to elicit a lot of different reactions, and that’s why I think people should read it.