by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
Release Date: January 5th 2016
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Find It: Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble
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.
As you can tell from reading the synopsis alone, Mercedes obviously has a pretty convoluted look on sexuality at her age, and this was a difficult pill to swallow at times. It is strangely realistic though, as I had a friend with a similar type of outlook when I was in high school. No, it wasn’t the same situation by any means… but their sense of worth was pretty similar to Mercedes. Sad, I know. Because of this, Firsts rang especially true to me.
Firsts really surprised me, and in a very good way. When you read the synopsis, right off the bat you know pretty much what you’re going to get with this story. Mercedes has sex with virgins so that their “first time” with their girlfriends will be special. She teaches these guys the rights and wrongs of being intimate so that their girlfriends have the perfect first time that Mercedes never had. However, as you can imagine, that means this story also centers around cheating. If that’s not something you can look past, walk away now. If you’re willing to look past that to see what this story is really about, it’s definitely worth a read.
One of my favorite aspects of this story (and the strongest, in my opinion!) is the wonderful emphasis on friendship. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with this group of characters, but what teenage friendship is? With their ups and downs, they learn more about themselves while sticking by each other and being true friends. I adored Faye, the tell-it-like-it-is teen who befriends Mercedes, despite her snarkiness and unwillingness to meet new friends. Zach, Mercedes’ “friends with benefits”, was one of my favorite characters. He has the biggest crush on Mercedes and wants more, yet she’s adamant that she doesn’t want a relationship and is constantly keeping him at arms’ length. Zach is so adorable, it’s impossible not to root for him.
There were so many strong elements emphasized in this story. Slut-shaming, parental abuse, double-standards, and the especially important message that all actions have consequences. This story was done so well, each issue addressed thoroughly and with sensitivity. Although I honestly don’t think this book is for everyone, as some people will be too put off by this character’s actions to thoroughly enjoy the story, I do believe it’s a story that will benefit many. A raw and very realistic look at sensitive topics, involving sexuality, self worth and respecting oneself above all else. This is a book that I wish was around when I was a teen and I think it’s a great addition to the YA genre.
At the same time, Mercedes knows she enjoys sex with boys—one boy in particular. How can her heart be in so many places at once? She struggles to make sense of the cocktail of seemingly contradictory thoughts in her head and analyzes her feelings under her own mental microscope. Am I attracted to a girl? Or am I just jealous of her because she’s everything I wish I had the courage to be?
You can have feelings for more than one person at the same time. You can have feelings for guys and girls at the same time. You can explore and question those feelings. Too often, teens feel like they have to define their sexuality in terms that everyone else will understand, or in labels that will satisfy someone else. High school is a time of decision-making, like you’re supposed to map out the rest of your life as soon as puberty hits. Through Mercedes, I wanted to show that no matter how old you are or what stage of life you’re at—kid or teen or adult or senior— you don’t have to do that. You can do what makes sense for you.
I’ve thought a lot about who Mercedes is and how she identifies sexually. Is she straight, or bisexual? It’s a question I intentionally left open for interpretation. Because not everything needs a label.