I received a copy of this book from Netgalley/the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I am many years beyond the target demographic, but I am a big fan of YA literature. Maybe it’s the engaging writing style, or maybe it’s the melodramatic plots. Maybe it’s both. I can remember giggling over Judy Blume’s Forever as a teen. Granted, it was already outdated when I first read it in the mid-1990s: going to Planned Parenthood for a diaphragm… but this is the book that started my fascination with the genre.
There have been many young adult novels since Forever that have tackled the delicate balance between sex and love and teenagers, and Laurie Elizabeth Flynn’s Firsts offers a new perspective on the genre.
Mercedes is a senior in high school, and her goal is to go to MIT. She’s a chemistry whiz, and she attends a bible study group with her best friend. Mercedes also has a secret: she offers to help nervous teenage boys by advising them what to do and what to avoid during sex. This will help them be able to provide their girlfriends with a magical and special “first time” rather than awkward fumbling.
Mercedes has rules: she will only have sex with virgins, and they can’t gossip about what transpired in her bedroom. She does receive referrals from previous visitors, but she seems to have things under control. But as the number of boys that she has “helped” grows, it becomes clear that this is a secret that is not going to stay a secret forever.
This is a book that deals with teen sexuality in a very frank manner. Mercedes is not glamorized. It’s absolutely heartbreaking that her mother is not around enough to notice that there are multiple boys coming around, and when she is around, she doesn’t seem to care. Mercedes is aware that sleeping with somebody’s boyfriend puts her into dubious moral territory, but she’s not trying to steal anybody’s boyfriend or for attention. She has her own reasons for embarking on this project.
The fallout from all this is devastating, but it provides Mercedes with an opportunity to see who her true friends are, and that “nice” people can’t always be trusted.
I would absolutely recommend Firsts. Mercedes is a likeable character. She’s smart, and she’s funny, and she is a good friend. The fact that she’s helping these boys is only a small part of her life, but it ends up being much more of a defining characteristic than she intended. This is the sort of YA novel that would make a great movie, but of course, no movie could capture the subtleties of Flynn’s story perfectly. I am looking forward to reading more of Laurie Elizabeth Flynn’s books in the future!