Published by St. Martin's Press on 1/5/16
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Dating & Sex
My content rating: Mature YA (Contains sex and other mature subjects)
Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.
Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.
When Mercedes’ perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, FIRSTS is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.
This book is so incredibly hard to encapsulate in a review because it brings up so many topics of discussion. This is the type of book that just makes me want to go on and on and on about my feelings because they’re so complex. I’ll try not to do that, but I make no promises.
Simply read the synopsis and you’ll probably be able to tell right away why I feel so conflicted about certain aspects of this book. After all, the premise centers around a girl who sleeps with virgins with girlfriends to supposedly prepare them for their first time so that the girls will get the magical first time that Mercedes never had. There are SO many things wrong with this that I can’t even begin to talk about them (yeah, I will, though – in a minute). But, Nicole, you say. You gave this book four stars. How can that be if you so disliked the very premise of the story? Well, I’m so glad you asked. In the end, the reason this book won me over was because it wasn’t really a book about a girl who sleeps with virgins, it’s about an emotionally damaged girl who is trying to gain control over her life (in some pretty unhealthy ways). It’s about her journey toward peace and redemption and the dark and painful road she sometimes takes to get there.
What I enjoyed:
- Sympathetic main character. The only way a book like this could possibly work is if I could actually somehow identify with a main character whose actions I disagreed with wholeheartedly. Flynn managed that miracle. She made me see the whys of Mercedes’ behavior so that I could see past her bad decisions and even her somewhat questionable (conscious) motives. I felt for Mercedes, and I wanted to see her change – I wanted to give her that chance.
- Painful lessons. Like I said, Mercedes’ journey is the most compelling part of this story. See, at the beginning of the book, she believes she understands her motives for doing what she does. She honestly believes she’s helping people – though she certainly realizes it’s in a way most people wouldn’t approve of. She actually doesn’t completely approve of it herself. She suffers from quite a bit of guilt over her actions, and she doubts her own morality because of them – but she can’t seem to stop her pattern and she tells herself she’s ultimately doing something good. Of course, there are about a million holes in Mercedes’ theory about how she’s helping people. (Honestly, I could list about a hundred of them – starting with the simple fact that the guys are cheating and ending with the fact that getting that one minute first time out of the way with Mercedes isn’t suddenly going to make them that much better their second time – she could have easily stuck with the advice portion of her help and left the actual act out of it). But I was okay with that because I didn’t feel like I was supposed to agree with Mercedes pitiful excuses. In the end, she realized that they were simply excuses – simply a way for her to justify getting that modicum of control that she felt like she needed. And Mercedes ended up learning some pretty valuable (if painful) lessons about herself and the results of her actions. She realized she couldn’t hide from her past or make up for it by somehow “fixing” other people’s first times.
- Zach. While most of the guys in this book were no prize, Zach was there to redeem the male species. Not only was he swoonworthy, but he stood behind Mercedes through everything and really wanted to get to know her, even when she pushed him away. I appreciated the fact that Zach was portrayed realistically – when things came out, he didn’t just easily brush it all off, he was justly upset. But he gave her the benefit of the doubt when most other people didn’t and he never wrote Mercedes off completely.
- Friendships. I loved that this book showed strong friendships. Mercedes had two strong friendships in the book (not including Zach). At first, her friendship with Angela seemed very surface (since Mercedes was lying to her a lot), but in the end the bond between them won out. I loved that Mercedes supported Angela’s decision not to have sex until marriage – the book supported everyone’s freedom to choose for themselves when sex was right without judging them for it. Faye’s character was a bit flamboyant and hard to read at first, but she turned out to be Mercedes’ biggest supporter. It was nice to see friends who stuck it out through thick and thin.
- The guys. We could see the whys of Mercedes’ actions, but I had no such sympathies for the guys in this book. After all, they were the ones who were cheating on their girlfriends, and they didn’t have messed up pasts guiding their actions. I kept wondering how there were SO many guys who were willing to “practice” with Mercedes. And what sort of benefits were they really expecting from this one time thing? Um, I don’t think teenage boys make that much progress in one … er … session. Then there were some guys in the book who turned out to be downright terrible. I won’t tell more about that at this point – ’nuff said.
- Horrible parents. What is it with YA and terrible parents? Mercedes’ mom is a special brand of horrible – one of those moms who encourages negative behavior and tries to be cool. Ugh!
In the end, I thought this book dealt with difficult issues in a realistic and ultimately positive manner. I applaud Flynn for taking the risk and convincing us to sympathize with Mercedes. I challenge you to give her a chance even if you’re not so sure about the concept behind the book. I give it 4/5 stars.
***Disclosure: I received this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
Laurie Elizabeth Flynn writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her debut, FIRSTS, will be published by Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press in 2016.
Laurie went to school for Journalism, where the most important thing she learned was that she would rather write made-up stories than report the news. She also worked as a model, a job that took her overseas to Tokyo, Athens, and Paris.
Laurie now lives in London, Ontario with her husband Steve, who is very understanding when she would rather spend time with the people in her head. Laurie can mostly be found writing happily at her desk, with the world’s most spoiled Chihuahua on her lap. Laurie drinks way too much coffee, snorts when she laughs, and times herself when she does crossword puzzles.