Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
Novel: Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn | GoodreadsRelease Date: January 5, 2016Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (Macmillan)Format: HardcoverSource: Publisher
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.
I kind of loved this book. I read it pretty quickly, and looked forward to opening it. The writing is both smooth and distinct, a voice that captivated me.I loved the concept. I loved the main character. The conflict - while not something I can personally identify with - felt both real and cinematic enough to still be enjoyable. Slut-shaming is a huge issue that's dealt with in the book, definitely, but it wasn't like it's an "issue" book. It was a funny, sweet, occasionally gritty book that completely hit the mark.The reason why? The characters.Mercedes was likable yet calculating, a balance which could have been incredibly difficult to pull off with a less accomplished writer. Her personality was engaging, and she had a perspective which I found interesting. She was quiet at school, a story waiting to happen. She was a down-to-earth girl with deep-rooted issues that didn't completely cloud her life. Granted, she had a history that affected her. But her primary issues were ones that most girls can probably identify with: the boy who liked her, the well-being of her friends, the dream college, the parent conflict. Despite the universality of her baseline issues, she felt memorable.Other characters contributed to Mercedes' development in poignant ways. Zach was actually one of the cutest, kindest guys I've read about in a while. He would drop anything for her, but he also did his own thing. Meanwhile, Faye was a brutally honest new girl who completely understood Mercedes' secret life when she didn't. Angela, the prudish Christian best friend, actually was really empathetic even though she was kept in the dark. She surprised me in heartwarming ways, and I adored their friendship.Sex is obviously a huge part of the book, and it talks about details without getting graphic or too old. When it's mentioned, it's more focused on how it affects Mercedes as a person, and how the other aspects of her life mess with her head. The book itself doesn't only focus on that, despite it being the main "hook". It comes down to both her morals and identity. First off, I love books about morals - particularly if they're a valid part of a girl's search for her own meaning. I think it's fascinating when they're a bit blurry, because so much of life is about figuring out what's right and wrong in the context of a given situation. Mercedes meant well, and that meant a lot.I also loved that Mercedes figured out a lot about herself over the course of the book. This isn't a book that attempts to teach the reader a lesson, which can get grating to teenagers. It's a book that explores many different sides, and watches a girl grow up. I loved specifically what she learned about her academic interests, and how to apply them. Mercedes loved to tutor people, and slowly honed her skills. Also, props to this book for featuring a STEM-oriented girl (I'm not one of them myself, but I can appreciate a burgeoning #GIRLBOSS.) I can appreciate the presence of new elements in YA, to reflect all sorts of different characters.This is a plot that could have very easily have become vapid, but it maintained depth due to the specific situations that she encountered. For example, she held a grudge against her mom for her partying, scattered ways. Still, her relationship with her mother fluctuated and emotion came from both sides. Also, her friend's boyfriend put her in uncomfortable situations that verged on harassment, which she struggled to avoid. And the whole slut-shaming discussion? Incredibly well-handled, and with a lot of perspective.I loved the dynamic of the open-door policy. It was based entirely on referrals and centered on guys with girlfriends so that Mercedes could keep a pretty tight leash on her name and reputation. As the numbers grew though, so did her problems. Different types of guys emerged - not only the sweet, unassuming ones who she was accustomed to, but also ones who made her doubt both her roles and morality.Another aspect of the book that made it successful was the tight pacing, and well-placed scenes. A crisply structured book makes for a gratifying experience. The proportions of each storyline elegantly funneled the issues into a conclusion which was actually incredibly satisfying. Due to the complexity of what happened throughout the book, I still felt that the narrative choices were realistic, and the ending made sense.The sad part about this book is that its subject matter probably means that it'll end up being banned or censored by well-meaning parents and administrators. I've covered this topic before, but I think that allowing teenagers to access situations like these empathetically, through meaningful literature, has a lot of underrated benefit. It helps us to understand others who may not be or act in ways similar to ourselves, and also shows them both positive and negative consequences of given actions or paths. If you're a parent looking at young adult books for your child and you're considering Firsts, I have to say that Mercedes is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent protagonists I've read about in a while and I really respect her development. It comes highly recommended from me.I really enjoyed it.