Published by St. Martin's Press on January 5th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Buy on Amazon
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 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 own reputation -and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn's Firsts is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.
Let me just say first: I enjoyed this book a lot. I thought it was compelling, awful in parts, with an unconventional narrator who, against the odds, evokes sympathy. It also succeeds where many other YA books have failed: portraying a realistic criticism of and challenge to slut-shaming and double standards.
What would you think of someone who deliberately slept with other girls’ boyfriends? I know a lot of my friends here are sex-positive and open-minded, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.
It’s one thing to have sex with loads of guys, it’s one thing to wear short skirts and enjoy flirting and dancing provocatively, but it’s another thing entirely to seek out guys who have girlfriends, isn’t it? Especially when the person knows some of their girlfriends and are trusted by them. Could you like a person like that? Could you learn to understand them and feel sympathy for them? Before reading this book, I would have said no.
It takes an author skilled with characterization to take such a person and make them not only understandable, but likable. To honestly convince the reader that they are worthy of sympathy. To make the reader sad and angry for them. Firsts does that.
Flynn is fantastic at drawing on underlying pain and making you understand how it affects someone. She also creates fascinating characters and relationships. This book shows the complex relationships Mercedes has with her mom who wishes she was younger, her absent dad, her religious best friend, her “Wednesday friend” who might be something more, the guys whose virginity she takes, and the girlfriends they all have.
It’s such an interesting book with lots of hidden depth. It explores the way Mercedes uses sex to regain control and how she justifies her actions to herself. Mercedes’ inner narrative is so convincing that it’s hard not to completely “get” her.
I think the book portrays a respect for choice above all else. Pointing out the double standards sexually active girls face in high school, whilst also respecting Angela’s desire to wait until marriage. It also does a great job of looking at the virginity double standards that put pressure on teen boys:
“Virginity is supposed to be something a girl gives up only when she is ready and feels comfortable, something a girl discusses at length with her friends and flip-flops over a million times in her mind before actually doing it. A guy is expected to be born ready.
But what I realised after Tommy is that they’re not. They’re just as scared as their girlfriends, maybe even more so because the onus is on them to be gentle, make it last, make it memorable.”
My only criticism is that sometimes the messages get a little mixed because of the author’s decision to write about this particular character. Unlike some of Siobhan Vivian‘s books or Mlynowski’s Ten Things We Did, I still felt like I knew exactly where this author stood and what she wanted to portray, but it was risky trying to write a sex-positive, anti slut-shaming book about a character who has an unhealthy sex life.
The plot demanded that Mercedes’ actions be questioned and addressed, at the same time as the “message” was one about the freedom for teen girls to enjoy sex. But, overall, it was engaging and well-written enough to work just fine. And, I should warn you, it packs an emotional punch and could be a trigger to those sensitive to rape/attempted rape.