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 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 own reputation -and figure out where her heart really belongs in the process. Funny, smart, and true-to-life, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn’s Firsts is a one-of-a-kind young adult novel about growing up.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this book initially as it does seem completely immoral that Mercedes is intentionally sleeping with other girls’ boyfriends. It soon becomes apparent that Mercedes has a lot of issues and has reasons for behaving in this way, and I began to wonder if something had happened in her life that had hurt her and that this plan is all about somehow making things right.
We soon find out that Mercedes’s dad left when she was younger, and her mother has since allowed her to do pretty much whatever she wants. She allows her to dress however she likes and she rarely home to keep an eye on her daughter. I think both females were damaged from the father leaving but this isn’t really explored in the novel and I wish it had been. It feels like Mercedes was a product of many things that happened in her life before she started having sex with lots of boys, not just one thing.
Mercedes has strict rules for her plan that she will only sleep with virgins, that it will only happen once, and it is only for boys who have a girlfriend that they are planning to sleep with. Mercedes is doing this so that the boys can make their first time with their girlfriend perfect and really special. She makes the boys promise that they will keep their time with her a secret and, of course all the boys agree but not all keep their promise.
As you can probably guess the lines around what Mercedes is doing end up getting blurred as she occasionally breaks her own rules and begins to feel confused about the rights and wrongs of what she is doing, especially as she is regularly sleeping with her good friend Zach, who is besotted with her, but she won’t date him. She doesn’t want him to get close to her. It’s at this point in the novel that I started to suspect that Mercedes may have had a bad experience with a man when she was younger and that this scheme of hers was to make sure no other girl had a bad first experience. It’s a twisted logic but for a mixed up teenage girl it’s possible to understand her reasoning. I ended up feeling really sad for her and was willing her on to work out her own issues so that she could move on in her life and leave the past behind her.
This was an interesting novel, it’s an idea that I’ve never read about before in YA fiction and I think it’s an important issue to explore. It’s horrible that a young female character who has issues around sex ends up letting herself be used by boys in an attempt to make herself feel better but having said that I’m sure this is true to life for a lot of people, and in the novel’s case it’s Mercedes’ way of trying to redeem the perceived wrong that she has committed years before so it makes sense within the story, sad though it is to read at times.
This is ultimately a novel about a lost, damaged teenager who struggles to let her guard down but really just wants to be liked. She is different things to different people but it’s all part of her wish to be accepted, and I think just about everyone will be able to identify with this.
I’m sure most readers, myself included, will open this book having made a judgement on Mercedes’ behaviour but it takes a good writer and a good story to turn how the reader feels about a character right round. I soon felt concerned for Mercedes, and then just very sad and really hoped she would find a way to turn things around for herself.
This is a really good young adult novel that explores important issues in an unflinching way. I rated this 4 out of 5 and would recommend it.
I received a copy of this book from St. Martin’s Griffin via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
Firsts is out now and available from all good bookshops.