Uses for Boys

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Uses for Boys Book Poster Image
Poetic, mature coming-of-age story includes rape, abortion.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Short chapters and high-interest material might make this a good choice for older reluctant readers. Motivated parents and educators can use this book to talk about tricky subjects, like society's different expectations of girls and boys when it comes to sex. See our discussion questions for some ideas about how to get your teens thinking about these often difficult subjects.

Positive Messages

The main character learns to find her own strength and build her own family. There is a lesson here about being able to decide your own life story -- and that a happy ending is possible, even after a series of mistakes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Anna does meet many happy and well-balanced people in the book, including a kind, wise woman she meets at an abortion clinic, and her boyfriend Sam and his functional family. Anna herself makes a lot of mistakes, but she is strong and smart -- and loyal to the people she loves, even though it may be easier to leave them behind.

Violence

Anna is raped by an older boy when she's drunk, but she keeps it a secret even from her mother.

Sex

There are lot of depictions of teen sex and one character gets pregnant after moving in with her teen boyfriend. A character describes sex with men. 

Language

A couple instances of "f--k," and Anna gets called a "slut."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink to drunkenness and also smoke pot. Anna's friend Toy often needs to take care of her alcoholic mother.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Uses for Boys is a mature book that includes teen drinking and marijuana use, sex, rape, and an abortion. Anna may make poor decisions -- she has several sexual partners as a young teen, for example -- but readers will admire her unflinching narration, strength, and growing understanding about her worth and what matters most. Short chapters and high-interest material might make this a good choice for older reluctant readers. 

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What's the story?

Lonely Anna's mom leaves her money on the counter and comes in after her young daughter is already in bed. Anna knows her mother is searching for a man to take care of her and, following the same pattern, begins to move from relationship to relationship, becoming sexually active as a young teen. She even moves in with a boy she meets smoking pot in a park, and soon after becomes pregnant. Anna must make a choice: Will her life just be her mother's all over again -- or will she decide to live a different life on her own terms?

Is it any good?

This is a poetic book that will be a big hit with fans of coming-of-age classic House on Mango Street and other lyrical stories. Like Mango Street, this book's easy-to-read vignettes are full of significant details that are both memorable and deeper than they first appear. Anna doesn't hold back on the gritty details, but brave adults can use her story to spark some great discussions about teen sexuality -- including the emotional reasons why teens have sex, how girls and boys are often treated differently when it comes to sex, and even how teen romantic relationships are depicted in the media vs. how they are in real life.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the book's title. How does Anna use boys -- and how do they in turn use her? 

  • Anna is called a "slut" by girls at school, and boys make vulgar gestures at her. Does this seem like something that might happen at your school? How are the expectations of girls and boys different when it comes to sex? Is this changing at all?

  • How is Anna's perspective different by the end of Uses for Boys

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