Check out what I thought about FIRSTS, a YA Contemporary debut coming out in 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.
Trigger warning: Rape
Thank you to NetGalley for an e-arc of this book!
Firsts was one of my anticipated reads of 2016 and I’m sad to report it missed its mark for me. Spoilers below because I can’t not talk about it.
1 I’m so happy to see a sex positive heroine in YA.
2 Female MC who likes, and is good at, science!! YAY!
3 Probably my biggest concern was that rape was so mishandled. Charlie forces himself upon Mercedes and she has to physically fight him off. He tries to rape her. He never gets far, but he still tried to have sex with her against her will. He was rough. He was terrifying.
Here’s the thing: no one calls this attempted rape. The closest it comes is ‘attempting to seduce you.’ No.
Secondly, Mercedes lost her virginity when she was 13 to an older guy, who lied to her just to have sex with her. Well, first he made her give him blowjobs nightly, then one night he got pretty drunk and made her sleep with him. Then he leaves her without a word.
This line: I didn’t say yes, but I didn’t say no. MY HEART.
It’s so important and warrants greater exploration because if you did not say yes, you did not give consent. And without consent, it is rape. No consent = rape always and to not see this for all the girls out there who did not say yes, was so painful. Rape culture is what happens when we don’t talk about rape and for a book that deals with sex and sexual relations, the fact that rape is not explored or even identified, says something awful to me.
4 Character motivations. I couldn’t really figure out Mercedes’. She says she started sleeping with virgins so they could give their girlfriends better first times than the one she had. The thing is, there’s a three year time jump to what happened with Luke when she was 13 and present day Mercedes. I just… this feels too flimsy for me and more like “PLOT!”
Next, Mercedes falls into a really dark place partway into the story. She lets herself get taken advantage of by a lot of guys who are clearly not virgins. She keeps trying to rationalize that they are (virgins). I know that trauma needs no explanation or justification, but I wish from a character standpoint, I could have gotten into Mercedes’ head a bit more so I really felt what she was going through. Instead it just left me:
Another character I had issues with was Charlie, the BF of her BFF who attempts to rape her. He just goes from “mega creep to muahaha villain” in 0 to 7000000x. How could he have been Angela’s (Mercedes’ bestie’s) loving boyfriend for years and nobody knows this? He came across very cardboard as a villain and I couldn’t buy it. It didn’t feel organic. Again it was more like, PLOT!
5 Mercedes is bi-curious. I didn’t like the way this was handled because it sort of came off as “I’m promiscuous so of course maybe I’m bi!” and fed into the stereotype of bi people sleeping with everyone. Faye, the object of Mercedes’ maybe attention, was also in a maybe relationship with Zach, so it was never quite clear what was going on and I didn’t like seeing the ‘bi people are untrustworthy’ stereotype perpetuated.
In the end, her feelings are resolved by Mercedes realizing she wanted to BE Faye, and not be WITH her.
6 Speaking of Zach, he was adorable.
7 Pacing-wise, this worked. I was not really enjoying this book, but it kept me reading. I drop books quite liberally if they can’t hold my interest or make me rage-y, but I couldn’t stop this. So something I can’t quite identify, besides the pacing, kept me reading.
I’ll definitely pick up Laurie Elizabeth Flynn’s next book, even if this one didn’t satisfy me the way I hoped it would. Firsts could have had more depth and explored some of its issues more deeply, but the pacing kept me reading to the end despite the faults.