Author: Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
About: 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’m going to say it right up front, Firsts made me feel like an old. Which I am, so, I mean, that’s fine. It’s just that not much really makes me feel that way. I consider myself a connoisseur of teen media (all mediums- from movies and TV shows to books and music) and when something makes me sit up and count my actual years I take notice. I really liked it, as you can tell from my Goodreads rating, but it sort of made me uncomfortable? Like, at the start, Mercedes is very confident in what she’s doing and very sure that she’s in the right. She definitely acts older than she is, projecting a maturity and behaving in a way that is a little unsettling to me, a self-confessed old.
Firsts is a different ‘first time’ story than we usually see in the YA world. Mercedes had a bad experience for her first time, which isn’t explored in detail right away, and then starts devirginizing boys in service to their girlfriends. She teaches these boys some moves and really just some basic ‘how-to treat a girl so she feels like she matters to you and you’re not just an a-hole trying to bang her’ things. I like that we come into this story when Mercedes is done with this whole set up. She’s helped 10 virgins, that was her cap, and she wants to move on. Except that she doesn’t stop and everything starts spiraling out of her control.
I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop the whole time. This arrangement is not a good one. She was taking a whole lot on faith that these boys wouldn’t say anything to anyone just because they wouldn’t want their girlfriends to find out. I’ll say it again – teenage boys not talking about sleeping with a hot girl for no reason except not wanting their girlfriend’s to find out. I don’t have that much faith in teenagers. If they don’t give a crap about actually having sex with someone who isn’t their girlfriend, I can’t imagine they would care about talking about it.
I think the stand out part of this book lies in its characters very complicated relationships with each other. Mercedes and her mom don’t get along: her mom tries to be hip and young, while she craves a “normal mom.” Angela and Mercedes are best friends, but Angela is totally in the dark about her best friend’s sexcapades and thinks she is a good little prayer groupie, just like her. Mercedes feels drawn to Faye, the new girl in school, and can’t tell if she wants to be her or be with her. Zack, her ‘Wednesday friend,’ the only boy she sleeps with for herself, wants an actual relationship, but Mercedes keeps him relegated to Wednesday fuck buddy. I was really rooting for Zack the whole time. He was such a good guy, but also really well developed. He wasn’t just a doormat who was in love with Mercedes. He kept putting himself out there, but he got hurt, he got angry, does some dumb things, and knows that he deserves better than being kept at arms length.
This book did a really good job of keeping Mercedes’s past hidden until exactly the right moment. She has trauma in her past (that I’m not going to spoil here, it really keeps you invested), but it all brings her to where she is at the beginning of the book and what she’s doing. You could feel something hanging over her, but Flynn does a really good job of playing the cards close, so the reveal is very satisfying.
I enjoyed this fresh take on the YA first time, even though it made me feel all of my years on this planet. The characters were interesting and well written, and although I found parts of the plot hard to believe, it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story at all. I love when YA pushes the perceived boundaries a bit (Shut Out by Kody Keplinger comes to mind) and I’m looking forward to seeing what Laurie Elizabeth Flynn comes out with next!