Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: January 15th, 2013
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.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)
Uses For Boys came as a total shock for me. I've mentioned before that YA Contemporary is not my favorite genre, and although the genre seems to top my annual "Best of" list every year, and although there are several authors of the genre who I call favorites, I dislike far more YA Contemporaries than I like. It has to be something special for me to love it. When this book arrived in my mailbox unexpectedly, I thought, "Oh! Pretty cover!", but I wasn't sure I would read it. Then I saw it was blurbed by the fantastic Ellen Hopkins, who happens to be one of my favorites in any genre, and I was sold.
Here's the deal. Uses For Boys is ugly. It's raw, gritty, real, and heartbreaking. The protagonist, Anna, is one that just tears you up. She is disconnected and naive. She is so lonely and desperate for love and attention, and she relies heavily on the only guidance she has ever received... The poor example of her self-absorbed, bed-hopping, several times married mother. Her reality is stark, cold, and unforgiving, and although she experiences a small bit of light and hope through her sometimes friendship with Toy, and fledgling relationship with Sam, as the reader, I was left wondering if it would ever be enough. When I picked this book up, my expectations were based on the cover, and the cover told to me expect a YA Romance. Well, nothing could have been more misleading. This book is a coming-of-age story about a girl who is coming of age under the harshest of circumstances. Anna's voice was tragic and and crushingly despondent. I had so many feelings while reading this book, and I have to say, that the good ones were few and far between. I can't say that I enjoyed this book, because much of it was difficult to read, from a subject-matter standpoint, but I found it compelling nonetheless. I thought it was extremely well written in a beautifully simple way that is not often found, especially in YA.
My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Grade Level Recommendation: This book is for high school students and up. There are harsh circumstances, many instances of drug and alcohol abuse, abortion, and many sexual encounters, including sexual assault. I would say this book is best suited for ages 15 and up (grades 10 and up).