Author: Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
Published: January 5 2015
Source: edelweiss for review
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.
Firsts is going to be a divisive book. I read it a few weeks ago and I am still not sure how I feel about it entirely. I waffled between three and a half and four for a couple days and finally nailed my feelings down enough to decide. It was different and pretty unafraid to go in directions not commonly seen in young adult literature. I liked that Mercy was unafraid to explore her sexuality and be in an unconventional role for a MC but the way she does the former is dangerously unhealthy and damaging. I know that's part of the point to Firsts, but it also made it such a hard read for me. I cared about this character and she never put her own health - be it mental or emotional - as a priority.
As you can probably guess, I saw some of myself and friends in the main character. I think every teen has feelings of isolation and not being understood, but Mercedes is utterly alone. Her family is utterly uninvolved or uncaring. Her friends see only the facade she allows. And as a result of her upbringing and background, she has no one who really knows her. She's not lonely; she's so alone she won't let herself really form emotional attachments to anyone. Sleeping even with other girls' boyfriends doesn't even register as wrong --in her mind, she's doing them a favor. It's heartbreaking to read character that has so much to offer and recognizes so little of her own self worth.
There were moments of humor in the book and in Mercedes general narration but I wouldn't necessarily feel comfortable calling this a "funny" book. I found myself really thinking about the way Mercy copes her life -- both in harmful and helpful ways. And I can't give enough kudos for the author's unflinching honesty (and snark) about teen sexuality and I also liked that protection was also key to those scenes. In another book, with another author, Mercy would be the antagonist of our main character. She would be somewhat of a trope. She would be justified as the villain if presented from an angle that doesn't empathize her as much as Firsts takes care to do. Flynn is deft with characterizing all kinds of people and their relationships in subtle but meaningful ways.
Firsts was different kind of contemporary for YA and it made me think. It also gave depth to a kind of character that is usually one-note and an easy target. Mercedes is an imperfect person but her evolution throughout the story is remarkable and believable. There are some triggering scenes for assault/sexual assault, so that should be considered as well. I liked Flynn's debut and plan to keep an eye out for whatever she publishes next. It wasn't a perfect read but it was interesting and I definitely liked it quite a bit.