*This review will contain spoilers!*
First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to St Martin's Press, for accepting my request to review this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
'Virginity is supposed to be something a girl gives up only when she is ready and feels comfortable, something a girl discusses at length with her friends and flip-flops over a million times in her mind before actually doing it. A guy is expected to be born ready.'Mercedes Ayres wants every girl to have the perfect first time. She wants them to have flowers brought to their doors, candles arranged in their bedrooms and boyfriends who take their time to make every moment memorable for them.
How does Mercedes make this happen? By training the boys. She sleeps with virgins, instructing them throughout and giving them hints and tips about what to do and what not to do with their girlfriends. Mercedes thinks tutoring the boys is a good deed, but when five virgins becomes ten, and that number continues rapidly rising, she starts to wonder if what she's doing isn't more about her after all.
I'm very conflicted over how I felt about 'Firsts'. I appreciated the social commentary,
"It's not fair that you take all the shit for this while the guys get to walk around like nothing happened. They're just as much to blame. [...] They were coming to you. It takes two to have sex."the concept was intriguing - I'd never read anything even vaguely similar - and the moral dilemmas faced by Mercy throughout definitely make you think and consider what you would do in her position.
I adored the frank and honest discussions about safe sex and miscarriage: too often in YA the sex scenes are fade to black, so to have scenes like
"I'm clean, you're clean. I got tested six months ago. And we're not sleeping with other people. It would feel so good without it."
"No condom, no love, Zach."is something that should be targeted more frequently, instead of just hoping that young and impressionable people will just know. I understand that all teenagers go through sex education in schools, but sometimes the lessons aren't that thorough and don't tackle the things that really need to be dealt with (my class never got taught about condoms, if that proves anything) so it's good to get that focused upon in YA.
We find out, later in the novel, that the reason Mercedes wants people to have the perfect first time is because she was raped and impregnated at thirteen, resulting in her suffering a miscarriage. This is, again, utterly realistic and I appreciated the fact that Laurie Elizabeth Flynn focused on so many aspects of sex and relationships that are normally brushed under the carpet. The mention of the miscarriage was brief and only lightly touched upon (it was a bit of a throwaway reference) but even this is more than I've seen in most other books aimed at the same target audience.
The infidelity wasn't an issue for me. If it was going to be a problem, I wouldn't have read the book, because the entire concept is based around cheating. Yes, Mercedes might be able to convince herself that it's for good reason, and the virgins might genuinely think it's going to be a good thing for their girlfriends, but at a base level it's still being unfaithful.
However, this book definitely wasn't perfect. The subplot of Mercy and her family issues, culminating in her dad eating dinner with them one evening, wasn't even slightly wrapped up - it didn't really make much sense because it didn't really have a story to it. We discover that Mercy's mum cheated on her dad, which is why he left her when she was young, but then we don't get any of the reasoning behind their reconciliation. Her friendship with Angela wasn't authentic (Mercy tells Angela that her boyfriend, Charlie, tried to blackmail her into having sex with him, but Angela doesn't believe Mercy. Charlie then posts a pornographic video of Mercy online, and Angela - religious, pious, non-sexual Angela - stays with him until he tries to force her into sex) and it made me roll my eyes more than a few times.
The bright spot in all of the characters was definitely Faye: badass transfer student, who had to leave her old school after a sex tape got leaked. Faye is a brilliant character and I wish we'd gotten more of her in the story because the scenes with her in really flew, while Mercy's voice was rather introspective and droning at points.
The ending was lukewarm at best, with Mercy finally starting a relationship with Zach, her friend with benefits, and inviting him to go to college near her - it's a bit too happily ever after, fairy tale ending for what had otherwise been a very down-to-earth book.
For a debut novel, this was definitely a success. I'm interested to see what Laurie Elizabeth Flynn writes next, because the feminist themes and straight-talking approach to sex were definitely something I appreciated, but I definitely enjoyed the content more than the actual story or the characters.