Firsts is a debut novel from Laurie Elizabeth Flynn that focuses on Mercedes, a girl who has decided to pay it forward–by teaching virgin boys how to give their girlfriends a perfect first time. This novel does not shy away from sex, obviously, but it still doesn’t become too crass. Mercedes has a system–only virgins, only once. Firsts is about what happens when her system begins to break down, and only then can Mercedes start dealing with her psychological issues and figure out what she truly wants in her life.
This novel is slightly similar to The D.U.F.F, a novel also about a teen who uses sex as a way to put off her problems. I’m surprised I enjoyed this as much as I did, considering that Mercedes wasn’t exactly a lovable protagonist. She did things that I have huge problems with, even if she was doing it out of the “goodness of her heart” and she truly believed that she was doing everyone involved a “favor.” Sorry, it’s not a “favor” to me if you’re having sex with my boyfriend. It’s barely touched on that it’s cheating. It’s shown as this service that Mercedes is doing for the benefit of the girlfriends of these boys that visit her bedroom. The silence that the boys are forced (although it’s also in their best interest considering their actions) into is obviously not going to last. Especially when more and more virgins come to her, even after she’s said she’s done paying it forward.
I liked how the author dealt with lines of consent, desire, and sexuality, as well as how to deal with the shame people put on others for being sexual beings. Because there shouldn’t be any shame with consensual sex. However, I ultimately felt like this could have been done better. It wasn’t quite on par with what I felt the book was promising its readers. So although the attempt was made, it still faltered. There were several times when consent was blurred, and then the discussion about what happens when it’s not consensual was blurred. That’s not okay.
Again, I have to go back to The D.U.F.F, because Firsts is also a novel where the parents are not engaged. The father is out of the picture due to divorce / walking out when she was a child, which is fine, because it can be realistic. What bothered me about Firsts, as well as other novels with teen protagonists, is that the mother was also absent. She was physically there, but she wasn’t emotionally or mentally there. The mother is basically doing the same thing that the daughter is doing, minus the virgins and the pay-it-forward mindset, and Mercedes shames her for it. Why are mothers in young adult literature always portrayed as teenagers themselves? Later on, when the mother attempts to connect with her daughter (several times), Mercedes throws it back in her face. I get it, teen angst. It frustrated me that there were no consequences for Mercedes. If I had done that, I would have gotten in trouble, near-adult or not.
As with a lot of contemporary young adult novels, there’s a romance that is obvious from the beginning, as well as a friend who only seems to serve as a verbal punching bag for the protagonist when she’s feeling bitchy. I didn’t particularly see why either of them stuck by Mercedes, mostly because of the trust issues that Mercedes’ actions would have given me had I been either of them. Overall, I felt that they were more stereotypes than characters, because they weren’t very fleshed out, a fault of the first person point of view.
For all the little things that didn’t work for me personally, I still enjoyed Firsts. It’s likely going to be a hit for the younger-than-me crowd, because the writer doesn’t shame the main character in the way that other books’ authors have done for sex and sexuality.
I received a copy of Firsts from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Firsts was released on January 5th, 2016.