The author of Uses for Boys explains why she sees her protagonist, Anna, as a strong person.
Q: What inspired you to write Uses for Boys?
A: Childhood, divorce, stepfamilies, the suburbs, The Lover by Marguerite Duras, this word: slut, borrowing your best friend's clothes, thrift stores, The Ice Storm by Rick Moody, sharing cigarettes, the stories our moms tell us, the lies we tell our friends, Francesca Lia Block, first apartments, taking off your bra without taking off your shirt, bathtubs, Portland, parties your parent's basement, Rum 151, faded t-shirts, best friends, sneaking out in the middle
of the night, boyfriends, Anais Nin, blue jeans, kissing.
Q: What are uses for boys?
A: It's odd to think of it that way, isn't it? Usefulness, as a lens to look at the world, didn't work for Anna. I think Anna's story, and certainly her experience, combats the idea of using people. Over the course of the novel, Anna comes to see all the many ways that we're needed and all the ways we need others.
Q: The book is written in an unusually lyrical style, with repeated phrases and short chapters. How did you take the decision to write in this way, and will your next book also push the boundaries of YA in both content and style?
A: Thank you. I love lyrical books. I love Christine Schutt and Rick Moody and writers like Steve Brezenoff and Nova Ren Suma. Even though the form that Uses for Boys took felt very specific to Anna's story, both novels I'm working on now also put a lot of pressure on each sentence. But they're very different in tone. For example, A Girl Like Me (working title), is far more populated and less lonely than Uses for Boys.
Q: In 140 characters or less, please describe Uses for Boys.
A: It's about boys and best friends. About girls and wanting and the stories we tell. It's about using sex as a shortcut. It's about family.
Q: Reading Uses for Boys, was an emotional experience. I had so many conflicting feelings about Anna. How do you see her?
A: I think Anna is strong. Readers sometimes say that they want to shake her, that they can't understand her bad decisions, but I look at her and think: she wants to do the right thing, but doesn't know what that is. And the thing is, she just keeps moving forward. That's Anna's strength. I think sometimes the only power a kid has is to keep going, to keep trying until something works.
Q: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
A: The hardest part was understanding the shape that the story was going to take. I wrote it for three and a half years and much of that time, maybe the first two years, was about learning what Anna was moving towards. It took me a long time to understand how much of the story was about family.
Q: Anna struggles with who she is in the world, who she thinks she needs to be, who she wants to be and who and what is important to her. I think it's a story every teen should read. Having lived through being a teen, is there any advice you'd give to girls like Anna who are trying to find out who they are and where they fit in?
A: Thank you. The teens I know are trying so hard to do the right thingto be true to themselves and do right by their friends and do right by their family. I'm amazed by the strength and the resilience of the young people I know. I love what Sam's mom told Anna, "you are strong." To Anna, I would say: You are important. Your story is important. And to the adults who know a girl like Anna, I would say: she shouldn't have to do this alone.