Emotionally Abandoned Teens at Your Library: Seeing Annas All Around Us, a reflection on Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
When you see a kid at your library day after day, showing up right after school and staying until closing – which is 9 PM – you start to wonder things like, what are you doing about food, why aren’t you going home, and does someone know (or care) where you are. There once was this boy, a teen. He came every day. For hours. And I never saw him eat. So one day I asked him, why don’t you go home and eat something. It turns out his family worked odd hours and there was no one at home.
I was a latch key kid. I wore a house key on a chain around my neck every day. I let myself into our house. My brother and I, we made snacks, we watched TV, we did homework. Well, we watched TV and ate snacks mostly. But this kid, he was not permitted to have a key to his house. He was not allowed to be there home alone. So he was forced to wander around town all day until someone was home. He came to the library. It was warm, it was dry, but we didn’t have food.
There could be a lot of reasons why his parents didn’t trust him home alone. But the truth is, he seemed like a good kid. We never had an issue. He was not the first and he was not the last. He was one of the many kids – teens really – I have encountered who came from what we call a “broken home”. Each broken home is broken in their own unique way, but one of these things I have seen over and over again is just this sense of abandonment, this sense that they are truly alone in this world.
And he was just one of the many kids I have talked to over the years who, for whatever reason, their parents had abandoned them in some way or another. Some of them quite literally, as they were now being raised by a single parent, an aunt, a grandparent. Sometimes their parents just decided they didn’t want to be a parent anymore so even though they were “there” in the physical sense, they weren’t really there in the ways that matter.
There are lots of reasons why families fall apart. Sometimes it truly is better. When my parents divorced I was always aware that this created a more peaceful home life for us all. But it came with its unique challenges. For a while, new people – with their own children – came in and out of our home like it had a revolving door. They would want you to build a relationship but after a while you learned there was no point, they would probably be gone again soon enough. I, like many children before and after me, learned very quickly about the impermanence of relationship and how fickle a mistress “love” could be. For a while I had a “sister” and a “brother”. I have no idea where they are now and if I’m going to be honest, I never developed a relationship enough with them to truly care.
So when I read Uses for Boys, I knew Anna right away. I could easily have been Anna. I see her all the time at the libraries I work at. Annas who are being raised by lonely, emotionally insecure mothers and fathers who spend more time trying to fill the empty space with love then concentrating on raising their children. Annas who spend so much time alone that they develop their own empty spaces inside and look to unhealthy behaviors to try and fill the echoing void inside. Annas who come home to an empty house, make macaroni and cheese in the microwave night after night, and eat alone in front of the TV. There are Annas everywhere among us, both male and female.
When Anna is invited into a home that is whole – not perfect, because no family is perfect, but whole – her universe shifts. She sees for the first time that there is something more to strive for. She didn’t know what it could look like, had never developed a real picture of it in her mind because she had no real life experience to draw on. But this, she sees, is a family. And it doesn’t matter how many people are in a family to make it a family, what matters is how they relate to one another. It matters that they feel safe to be authentically themselves, and that they feel loved and supported. Anna and her mother could have been a family, but her mother didn’t have it in herself at that time to give Anna the family she wanted and needed, because she was still so empty inside herself.
The teens that I meet, often their parents have forgotten how to try because of their own brokenness. They turn to drugs and alcohol, they turn to a dysfunctional idea of love. Sometimes there are mental health issues. The thing is that they turn away because being a loving and supportive parent is exhausting and they are tired. Sometimes they are angry. Sometimes they are lost or lonely or they just don’t know how to find the tools they need to parent well.
When people ask me why there should be darkness in YA books, I think of some of the teens I have worked with in my library over the years. Some of our teens live very dark lives. Some of our teens are living lives just like Anna in Uses for Boys. Anna’s story may be fiction, but for a percentage of our teens it is all too real.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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