Title: Firsts (2016)
Author: Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Extent: 320 pages
Release Date: January 5, 2016
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.
Quick disclaimer: I find it hard to rationalise my review of this book without referring to my personal belief systems, so I will. Firsts is a very interesting book to read, mostly because of its rather unconventional protagonist. On the surface, Mercedes is ‘promiscuous’—she offers a (free!) service where she sleeps with virgin boys and shows them how to give their girlfriends a good first time. Beneath it all, however, she is remarkably, remarkably screwed up.
I liked Mercedes, but my main emotion for her was mostly concern. I was concerned that she had a deadbeat mother, I was concerned that she had a (personally) really warped view of sex and sexuality, and I was extremely concerned that she was, very much, alone. Mercedes literally had no one she could trust on her side, something no person should ever go through.
The people around Mercedes aren’t always reliable, and this made me sad for her. There’s Angela, Mercedes’s best friend who in my opinion was really not her best friend as Mercedes didn’t trust her, not really. There’s Charlie, Angela’s boyfriend, who is really quite creepy as a person. There’s Kim, Mercedes’s deadbeat mother who encourages her daughter to sleep around (literally). There’s Zach, Mercedes’s chemistry partner and (later) reluctant friend. There’s also Faye, a new-girl-in-town who is seemingly charmed by Mercedes and wants to be her friend.
Speaking of Faye, occasionally in the book there would be moments where Mercedes thinks [spoiler] Faye likes her romantically [/end spoiler]. I found these parts to be completely unnecessary and not really successful in conveying what the author (seems like she) wants to convey: that Mercedes [spoiler] admires Faye and wants to be her [/end spoiler]. It quite often took me out of the story and just felt really odd.
The main thing I appreciate about Firsts is how it approaches the different facets of sex and sexuality—blatantly and unapologetically. This book deals with sex before marriage, virginity and slut-shaming, all of which have the potential to be really emotional issues and probably already are for plenty of teenagers today.
Sex before marriage is a very, very personal thing. Plenty of people are against it, typically for religious reasons and occasionally for others, but plenty of people are also for it, usually because of fear of sexual incompatibility. In Firsts, both these camps are treated with respect. The majority of people in this book have had sex before marriage and aren’t shamed for it, and on the other side of the spectrum, Angela sticks to not having sex before marriage and also doesn’t get shamed for it.
The slut-shaming is a different case. Mercedes does behave in promiscuous ways, but it’s noted numerous times that she actually had good intentions. How she made the leap of logic to sleep with virgins who have girlfriends I’m not sure, but it’s important to recognise that it’s a two-way street. She might be the one offering, but her ‘clients’ could have very easily said no. Firsts asks us: why is it the women who typically get the short end of the stick?
Additionally, Mercedes’s clients are cheating. Their intentions might technically good—to give their girlfriends a good ‘first time’—but it’s still cheating. Why is this brushed away? Why is Mercedes the one who gets blamed? Why did the guys—the ones who are in the relationship—get away scot-free, for the most part?
This doesn’t apply to just Mercy’s ‘clients’ as well—plenty of other characters in Firsts got away scot-free. It’s not right that Mercedes’s mum practically shoved away all of her responsibility as a parent and still doesn’t really face any consequences for it, even until the end. It’s not right that Mercedes’s father abandoned them, no matter the reason. It’s not right that Charlie invaded Mercedes’s privacy in the worst possible way and didn’t get punished for it, especially when his actions actually have some dire legal consequences in some states in the USA.
The ending of this book, frankly, made me angry. It’s unfair. It’s cruel. Where’s the justice that my main character deserves? Where’s the help? And yes, Mercedes needs help. It’s not a new boyfriend that she needs, no matter how understanding and kind he is and how physically compatible they are. This part of the book was extremely lacking. When I finished this book, I was left with an overwhelming urge to take all these characters to a therapist so they could figure out their issues and live a healthier life because they weren’t really resolved.
Overall, however, Firsts is an interesting book, one equipped with an unconventional protagonist and one that tackles quite difficult but real issues today’s teenagers are facing. It’s quite different from the typical contemporary YA titles, and I’d recommend anyone interested in sex and sexuality to read it. ❤