Published by St. Martin's Griffin on January 5th 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.
True story: I did not think I would like this book at all. Mercedes seemed like someone I would not be able to connect with, and I didn’t exactly think she was making great life choices based on the synopsis. But alas, here I am, wrong again.
Well, I wasn’t wrong about Mercedes’s terrible life choices. But we’ll get to all that. First, the thing that had me worried about reading it? It could have gone two ways: the crude, wildly inappropriate way that would have made me cringe, OR the classy, issues-driven book about a girl struggling with so many societal pressures that would make me applaud the author. If you read no more of this review, please understand that it was the latter. Ms. Flynn did this book an amazing amount of justice, and I am kind of blown away that this is her debut. The writing was fabulous, and just set the tone of this book perfectly.
Right off the bat, I didn’t exactly love Mercedes. I was a lot like her friend Angela, minus the religion (and the boyfriend, but whatever) in high school. Mercedes was having sex with a lot of different guys, but she legitimately seemed to believe that it was a good thing. That was when I started to realize that Mercedes was a lot more than met the eye: she really wasn’t doing any of the things she did out of malice.
I found that there were quite a few things in the book that really stood out to me overall:
1. Mercedes and her relationships
Obviously, this girl is going through stuff. Now, let me get something out of the way: The book in no way says that having sex means that there’s something wrong. Not even close! It’s absolutely sex-positive, but also delved into a lot of the deeper issues of Mercedes’s character, which yes, happened to include sex. We’ll get into that more later.
Mercedes has a lot of aspects of her life to juggle when we first meet her. Her mom is a mess, and honestly one of the worst parents in the history of ever. She’s absent often, and when she is around, she is giving Mercedes some of the worst “advice” I have ever heard. Usually, this would bother me (the Parent-in-YA Syndrome, I mean), but in this book and context, it makes sense. Because I am pretty sure that my parents, who spent every evening with their asses glued to the couch when I was a teenager, would notice a steady stream of soon-to-be-not virgins parading in and out of my room.
Then Mercedes has to deal with friendships. She has some relationships that she hasn’t really opened up in (with Angela), and a new, budding relationship with someone who really cares (Faye). In addition, there is the one guy she lets herself sleep with more than once, Zach, who is awesome. Can I please reiterate how much I adore Zach? We need more of him in the world. He legitimately cares for Mercedes, but she is too scared to be vulnerable. These are things that she has to discover and figure out during the course of the story. Is it too late for some of these relationships?
Mercedes is also very intelligent and driven, which was fabulous. She really wanted to take charge of her life, and was quite driven. I was so glad that there was so much more to Mercedes than her sexual proclivities.
2. Sex portrayed in a realistic manner
What I mean by this is that sex was neither totally positive all the time, nor was it a bad thing. It was as it is in most situations: dependant on a lot of factors. Mercedes having sex was never seen as a negative in the book. Mercedes having sex because she thought that was all she was worth, that was a negative. Guys thinking that sex was something they were “owed” was a negative. But consensual, appropriate sexual encounters? Those were great! Encouraged, even.
It also was never romanticized. These guys were awkward, because well, that’s what Mercedes was there for. It wasn’t some kind of amazing passionate affair, a lot of it was downright cringe worthy. And there were frank conversations about safe sex and birth control, which was fabulous, and incredibly important. Really I don’t think there can ever be enough of this in YA. I mean, Mercedes always had protection for herself, there was no shame and embarrassment, which is awesome. Plus, it allows me to use this gif that I have been saving for eons:
3. The Slut-Shaming
Man, does this make me stabby. First, there’s the comments and the general nastiness aimed at a girl just for having sex. Then there’s the reaction that if she wanted to have sex with one person, obviously she wants to have sex with all the people. Which is so ridiculously wrong I cannot even begin to explain. And there are guys who want to take advantage of this. There are some characters who will make you so, so angry, and they should. It’s kind of like the whole “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” thing. None of us is free of skeletons, of secrets, of things about ourselves we wish we could change. And just because Mercedes’s sexual history ended up being made into public information (which is a whole other really big issue of invasion), that’s no reason to somehow think she’s “less than”.
4. The Double Standard
If the slut-shaming made me stabby, consider this homicidal. Who decided that this was a thing? If a guy and a girl had sex… they both had sex. Why is it somehow fine for the guy, but not for the girl? Someone seriously needs to explain this to me before my head explodes. And the even more ridiculous irony (and this is pretty accurate in life, not just this book) is that even though the guys were the ones who did the actual cheating on their girlfriends, everyone- girlfriends included- were mad at Mercedes, and in most cases not the guys at all! Can we please, as a society, stop this nonsense?
5. The Progression
God, Mercedes had so much to learn about herself. And even by the end, she still does. When the book starts, Mercedes simply won’t give herself a break. She’s so hard on herself, gets mad at her own emotions, and keeps absolutely everyone at arm’s length. Really, her journey has a lot of components- and the sexual stuff only plays a small part. She is a young woman trying to navigate life under some tough circumstances, and it’s okay to make mistakes, but Mercedes has to let herself off the hook first.
There were only a few small things about the book that bothered me, and most of them were just believability issues. There were some coincidences that were just too similar for me to ignore, but it didn’t really take away from the story too much. Some of the events that happened were also a bit over the top to be plausible, but for the purpose of the story (and the takeaway for Mercedes) they worked. I just had to take it with a grain of salt.
Bottom Line: The messages in this book are not to be missed. Though I thought I’d feel a bit weird about Mercedes, I ended up having a great amount of empathy for her, and was rooting for her, because she deserved to have people in her corner. Firsts is both a lovely and gutsy debut that I am happy to have taken a chance on.
I just started reading my copy tonight! I’m definitely having some mixed feelings which aren’t necessarily the book’s fault, but I want to see how everything turns out. Hope I end up loving it.
I hope you do too! I admit, at first I was very wary, but then as Mercedes evolved, it was great for me. Hope it is for you too 😀
Such a great review!! You summed up how I felt about this book perfectly. I had a hard time connecting with Mercedes at the beginning, but what really impressed me in this story, is how she grows from the beginning to the end. From someone who can’t catch a break and is SO, so hard on herself, she grows and learns about her mistakes, and forgives herself for it. There are times where I wanted to SLAP her, so many times, but in the end, I was so grateful for this great character development. Great review! 🙂
Aw thanks! And yes, the growth was just phenomenal! I agree with you- I wanted to slap her too! And then shake her shoulders and yell ” JUST STOP IT” hahha.
Oooh, I want to read it, BUT I’M WORRIED AT THE SAME TIME!??! Like I find it very hard to connect to characters at the best of times, so I feel like Mercedes and I wouldn’t get on too great. D: Which worries me. But I still want to read it for the messages and see how it resolves. DANGIT, SHANNON. MY TBR DOESN’T THANK YOU.
(Joking. It totally thanks you.)
You hated it, didn’t you? I feel like maybe I have lost some credibility here 🙁 BUT she did need therapy, and lots of it. I should really just go comment on your review, rather than responding to your review here, which doesn’t make sense. I’m tired.
Funny – I have seen this one around everyone and never really read what it was about – this totally sounds like a me book!
Aw yay, I hope you enjoy it!!
This was such an interesting book for me, Shannon. I completely appreciated what the author was trying to get at with the way she handled the sex positivity and the double standards, but at the same time, I found it incredibly hard to connect with Mercedes in any way. I also didn’t think her reasons for sleeping with all the boys with girlfriends were justified? I don’t know, I’m still very conflicted about how to even write my review for this one. I did love the writing though and I’ll be sure to read her future titles!
Lovely review, Shannon! I’m so happy you enjoyed it. 🙂
Thanks so much! I DO know what you mean about Mercedes. It was hard because she didn’t do ANYTHING that I would have done- so I couldn’t see her choices as logical, but I think that was part of the appeal for me? And no, I don’t think the reasons were justified either! I think that was also appealing to me- because she WAS wrong, and she needed to learn that she was wrong, and WHY. I totally understand this one being polarizing though, because I think VERY few of us (myself included!) could ever possibly understand what would drive someone to behave this way. She seriously needed a TON of counseling, and in my mind, she got some after the book ended 😉
You have me intrigued – intrigued enough that I went and requested this book (though it might be too late to get approved – we shall see). This book sounds like the type that makes you think, which I love. BUT I’m not sure that I’ll be on board with Mercedes – BUT her reasoning actually sounds kind of sweet in a backwards sort of way – BUT … yeah, you see where I’m going with this. 🙂
I bet you could still get approved! It really did make me think- especially as a parent (you will want to actually strangle the mom, and then hug your kids), so I think it is worth the read!! And yes- that is how I felt about Mercedes too- she didn’t MEAN harm, she legitimately didn’t know better.
Already got it and read it and am currently writing my review. I’m with you on this one – it was a solid four stars for me because Mercedes was just messed up enough for me to sympathize with her and understand her motives, even if her actions were misguided.
I love that this is a YA book that doesn’t pretend sex doesn’t exist in teenagers lives. Although it seems like the execution could use some work. I still want to read this because I think YA needs more books like this.
Totally agree! And like, even though Mercedes’s actual behavior wasn’t condoned, there was never ANY indication that sex was “bad”- nor was there any indication that “everyone” was doing it either, which was SO refreshing!
Ooh this seems like a wonderfully controversial book – I did feel rather hesitant about it when I read the blurb but you have me convinced, Shannon! Can’t wait to read it myself see the messages it delivers.
Lovely review, hun <33
I felt the same way- I was RUNNING from it! But then Inge basically told me I HAD to read it, and she was right 😉 I am glad I listened! Hope you enjoy it, thanks so much!!
I only skimmed your review because I’ll be reading this one very soon, but I’m so excited to see how much you enjoyed it!! This makes me SO HAPPY!!! 🙂
Oh yay! I cannot wait to read your review! I hope you enjoy it 😀
I saw this one kicking about NetGalley and pretty quickly passed it over as something I wouldn’t be interested in. But reading your review I’ll be giving the book more thought. I assumed it was going to be something that could either be very preachy and terrible or otherwise page after page of cringe. It’s great to know that some real issues are being addressed, and I would hope that any young girls that read it feel as infuriated about the slut shaming and double standards as you did!
I almost skipped it too! I thought it sounded…. gross? Creepy? But it really wasn’t! Same as you- I thought either it would be like “HAVE ALL THE SEX” or “Sex is very very bad”, but it was refreshingly neither! And I LOVED that it addressed the double standards and social stuff! I hope you do enjoy it if you decide to read it!
*velciraptor noises* ughhhhhh your review is fab. I’ve been struggling to write my review on this one for about a week now…and I’m just…STRUGGLING. I have such conflicted thoughts on it myself and I just…can’t seem to write my review aha. I’ll get there though. Hopefully. 🙂 I really like the way you laid your review out and I do agree with a lot of what you’ve said, I’m just not sure how to put it into my own words. Loved reading your thoughts though, Shannon!
I think a LOT of people are having conflicting thoughts on it, honestly. It’s hard- because you don’t want to excuse all the things that Mercedes does, but MAN, you can’t help but feel for her- she is just such a mess 🙁 And thanks so much- I hope that your review goes well 😀
This reminds me so much of Easy A. I would definitely be super pissy and Stabby Val would arise because I would be ticked off by many of the things you mentioned! And by that I mean like double standards, slut shaming (SHE’S GETTING SOME AND YOU AREN’T so ha) and just people being mad at the main character. Even reading your review made me get a little stabby.
On that note, I need to read more books about sexy time. I may pick this up. I don’t know.
Bwhahah well, if you want ummm steamy sexy times, this is probably not the one for you. If you want weird, awkward, but realistic teen sexy time (I can only make assumptions, as unlike Mercedes and all the dudes she deflowered, I had no teen sexy times), then this is!
I agree with this review 1000%!!! I did not agree with the choices that Mercedes made, but I still kind of related to them. And I loved the awkwardness of all the guys’ first times. The first time is always awkward. And the fact that she brought attention to the double standard regarding guys and sex was great. Girls are expected to be nervous about the first time, but it seems like guys are just expected to know what they are doing immediately, which is not the case. I am so glad I ended up requesting this book because it was so much better than I thought it would be.
I agree with you completely! It is so messed up, the way society thinks about this stuff, and the author handled it SO well! I am so glad I requested it too- and I am glad you liked it!
CHELSEA HANDLER AND GOLDEN GIRLS GIFS. THIS REVIEW IS PERF, SHANNON.
But I totally didn’t really agree with all of Mercedes’s choices either. The cheating bugged me, but that was more on the guy’s fault, I feel, and Zach is such a sweetiesweet creampuff, like how could everyone not love him?!?! Also: Faye. So so so sweet. She was like Shelby from How to Love, whom I also love. So glad you enjoyed it! 😀
Bwhaha thanks! I mean, those are a bunch of badass women, no? It WAS more the guys’ fault! She didn’t owe their girlfriends anything, but they did! I LOOOOOVE Zach! And Faye was fun too, I was glad Mercedes found her! Glad you enjoyed it too 😀
So glad to see that you liked this one! I’m planning on reading this next and I’ve been so excited to start it!
Aw yay, I hope you enjoy it!!