Thursday, 7 January 2016

Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn
St. Martin's Press
[January 5, 2016]
egalley from publisher

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.

Firsts is not a book for everyone. But it was very much a book for me. In trying to explain this, there are some minor spoilers, so if you want to be sure to skip those, I'll summarize at the end.

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn hit a lot of buttons for me, some that I didn't even know that I had. For one thing, the writing was sharp and witty. The voice of Mercedes as a teenager was so spot on; I love YA, but there's a strong tendency to make these teen characters seem more like adults. I was totally hooked on to it. I started it on a flight to Budapest and ended up spending two hours sitting in a cafe while I finished reading it on my first day there. 

That was one of the things I loved most about it - Mercedes was very much a teenager. She had so much to learn about herself and people and growing up. She made mistakes, because teenagers make stupid decisions sometimes, and some of them she grew from and others she didn't - because real teenagers do not magically become new people over the course of a school year. It takes time and Laurie Elizabeth Flynn illustrated that perfectly. She just felt so very real to me as a person who was fairly recently a teenager and still makes major mistakes and takes a long time to learn from some of them.

I also adored the fact that this novel took on sex in such a straight forward manner. So few YA books really address sex like this and YA needs more of that. It's, again, an honest thing about being a teen. And I loved that nobody really had a problem with how much sex she was having - it was the who that was really the dilemma. 

This book also featured one thing I hadn't even thought about before as something lacking in YA - a parent who just isn't good at being a parent. Often parents are dead or neglectful/abusive or overly involved. There's not much in between. But with Mercedes mom, Mercedes saw her as completely absentee, but it wasn't that clear and dry. Her mom just didn't really know how to be there and relate to her as a mom. I had a very similar relationship with my dad growing up, but I didn't quite know how to explain it until I read Firsts and saw so much of my parental situation in this book. Not every parent has the personality to BE a parent and it's a pretty common occurrence that I hope we see more in YA in the coming years.

I also loved the chemistry happening in this book and how it wasn't so cut and dry. There were a few people that Mercedes started to have feelings for and I wouldn't have been upset if she ended up with any of them. That is also my one issue though - while trying not to spoil too much, a girl shows up at school and Mercedes thinks she may have feelings for her, but it's never explored in a direct way. It was kind of skirted around, but it could've added a really interesting extra dimension to the story.

Like I mentioned when I started, this is not a book that'll work for everyone. One of the big reasons it did work for me was because I was able to remind myself that this is what being a teenager is like. It's messy and complicated and full of screw ups. It's also full of complex friendship dynamics and good guys and terrible guys and new friends and old friends clashing and exploring one's beliefs and trying to find a balance with parents. Being a teenager is kind of a mess and it's one that a lot of YA rarely fully captures - YA is my first love and always will be, but much of contemporary YA glosses over some of the realities of being a teenager. I understand the reasons behind it, but it's always important to show real teens a clear reflection of themselves so they're reminded that things about them are normal and aren't bad and I think Firsts gives so many teens that chance. It's a chance many of them likely haven't been able to have too often with contemporary YA. So, I'm glad this book exists and that teens will get it and I really, really hope you can give this one a chance as well.




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