Uses for Boys

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 1/15/2013
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

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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, brining home the next stepfather. Anna is left on her ownuntil 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 highthe 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 loseand something to offer. Real, shocking, uplifting, and stunningly lyrical, Uses for Boys is a story of breaking down and growing up.

Author Biography

As a teenager, ERICA LORRAINE SCHEIDT studied writing at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and later received an MA in creative writing from University of California, Davis. Now a teaching artist and longtime volunteer at 826 Valencia, Erica works with teen writers in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s a 2012 Artist in Residence at Headlands Center for the Arts and is currently at work on a second novel for young adults.



Table of Contents

 “I wish every young woman could gain the wisdom found in these pages. Quiet. Stark. Possibly life changing.” – Ellen Hopkins, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of the Crank trilogy

“Many girls will relate to the fact that 'there are no fathers in this story'… Scheidt’s spare and poetic debut offers up pretty images for some decidedly unpretty situations ('the unmade bed is peaked and stormy'); at times, her prose feels as tightly wrought as a novel in verse. This is a story about where we come from, and how, sometimes, we have to break free from the past in order to shape our own future... Lots of teens will see themselves in the pages of this beautiful, honest novel.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

“Like its narrator, Uses for Boys is poetic, sensual, edgy and strong.  Captivated, I finished it in two sittings and sobbed at the end.”—Francesca Lia Block, New York Times bestselling author of Weetzie Bat and I was a Teenage Fairy

"If somebody had handed me this book when I was fifteen, I would have felt 75% less alone and 100% less crazy."—Pam Houston, award-winning author of Cowboys Are My Weakness and Contents May Have Shifted

“Some writers know how to make something terribly complicated and true...simple. That's what Erica Lorraine Scheidt does in Uses for Boys. With stark, lucid prose, she hones in on that experience we girls know well: we believe boys will fill our emptiness.”—Kerry Cohen, author of Loose Girl


the tell-me-again times

In the happy times, in the tell-me-again times, when I’m seven and there are no stepbrothers and it’s before the stepfathers, my mom lets me sleep in her bed.
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.
“Tell me again,” I say and she tells me again how she wanted me more than anything.
“More than anything in the world,” she says, “I wanted a little girl.”
I’m her little girl. I measure my fingers against hers. I watch in the mirror as she brushes her hair. I look for myself in her features. I stare at her feet. Her toes, like my toes, are crooked and strangely long.
“You have my feet,” I say.
In the tell-me-again times she looks down and places her bare foot next to mine. Our apartment is small and I can see the front door from where we stand.
“Tell me again,” I say and she tells me how it was before I came. What it was like when she was all alone. She had no mother, she says, she had no father. All she wanted was a little girl and that little girl is me.
“Now I have everything,” she says and the side of her foot presses against the side of mine.
eight is too big for stories
But everything changes and I’m not everything anymore. We’re in the bathroom and she’s getting ready. His name is Thomas, she says, and he won’t like it if she’s late. She tugs at the skin below her eyes, smooths her eyebrow with the tip of her finger. I’m getting old, she says.
“Tell me again,” I say.
“Eight is too big for stories,” she tells me. She sweeps past me to pick out a dress and when she does, I know. I know this dress. It’s the dress she wore the first time, the dress she wore the last time she left me alone. It’s yellow and when I touch the fabric, my fingers leave marks.
“Stop that,” my mom says and steps out of reach. Then she sprays perfume between her breasts and I turn away. I know what comes next. She’ll go out and I’ll get a babysitter. She’ll wear perfume and put on nylons. She’ll wear high-heeled shoes. The babysitter will sit at our kitchen table and play solitaire.
“Why do you have to go?” I say.
“I’m tired of being alone,” she says and I stare at the wall of her room. The bathroom fan shuts off in the next room. Alone is how our story starts. But then I came along and changed all that.
“You’re not alone,” I say. My back is to her and on the wall of her bedroom are the photographs I know by heart. The pictures that go with our story. She always starts with the littlest one. The one of her mother.
“The last one,” my mom says, meaning it’s the last picture taken before her mother died. She died before I was born. “She was so lonely,” my mom says. Our story starts on the day that her father left her mother. It starts with my mom taking care of her mother when she was just a kid like me.
I can take care of you, I think. But already she has her coat on. She’s opening the front door because Thomas is waiting downstairs.
I look at another photo, the one of me at the beach sorting seashells and seaweed and tiny bits of glass. In it, I’m concentrating and wearing my mom’s sweater with the sleeves rolled up.
“Bye,” she calls and I look up, but the door is already closed.
he’s our family now
She goes out that night. She goes out the next night. I sleep alone in her bed and when she comes home, she packs a suitcase. She’s going away for the weekend, she says. She’s going away for the week. In between she comes home. She repacks. She washes her nylons and hangs them in the shower. She washes her face in the sink. I watch her in the mirror as she gets ready to go out again. She looks at her face from different angles. She pinches and pulls at her skin.
Then I meet this man. This Thomas. She brings him home like he’s some kind of gift.
And I’m told to be nice. I’m told to stand still. I’m made to wash my face.
I stand in front of him with my arms straight down at my sides. He’s in the kitchen, crossing in front of the light like an eclipse. Our kitchen table looks strangely small. Our ceilings too low. I’m watching the front door and willing him to walk back out of it. Instead he bends down until his face is even with mine.
“She looks just like you,” he says.
“You don’t look like anyone special at all,” I tell him. And I curse him. And I start a club to hate him. And I make a magic spell to get rid of him. And when she marries him, when we pack up our apartment and move into his house, when I change schools and have to eat the food he likes to eat, I don’t talk to him.
“Anna,” my mom says.
“What?” I say.
“Be nice,” she says. “He’s our family now.”

Copyright © 2012 by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

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