Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: St Martin's Press
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.
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I did not know how I would feel about this book, even as I kept reading it, I was like hmmmm, HMMMM and turns out, after all my hmmm-ing and ah-ing, I don’t like this book. Nope. My expectations were of a smart, witty, insightful book, which to be fair, in some parts, it was – but the tropes played out in this book, and the main character, just really didn’t sit well with me.
The idea behind this really pulled me in, especially after seeing so many of my fellow GoodReads all reading it, so of course I jumped on the bandwagon. 17 year old Mercedes, who never got her perfect first time, takes it upon herself to sleep with boys, teach them to do it “right” so that their girlfriends will have a better first experience than she did. Crikey, right?
I went in with expectations of a story which repels slut-shaming and promotes body positivity – and it did; something I came to understand through Mercedes character was that she uses sex as a control mechanism – she’s got seduction and the lead up to it down to an art form. But outside of that realm, outside of her predicating which guys like which outfit, she doesn’t quite know how to form and maintain relationships. Of any sort, whether that be with her there-but-absentee-mother, her friend-but-more-than-a-friend Zach, or even her best friend Angela, from whom she keeps her endless secrets and a betrayal.
I feel like the purpose of this book was meant to divide the majority, to make people question “why can’t she sleep with loads of guys and feel good about it, without being shamed by it?” and the answer to that lies very simply in whether you think the reasons why she does it, is justified or not. For me. It was clearly not. NOPE. Mercedes is a somewhat messed up character, craving love and affection but simultaneously pushing people away. Wanting to provoke a reaction from her ever chirpy mother, but then pushing back when she gets what she wanted. She’s a bit of a mess, which is totally fine, because characters are meant to be flawed and broken especially when their experiences have shaped them so.
But this whole sex initiation thing she does with guys, is just plain wrong. She sleeps with other girls boyfriends on purpose, and then lets them go on their merry way, back to their girlfriends, thinking she’s done them a favour, and she’s actually proud of what she’s done. Imagine the roles were reversed okay; a guy sleeps with girls and takes their virginity, so that their boyfriends would have a good first time with them. YEP. IMAGINE THAT.
Imagine how many guys could have traipsed their way into her bedroom, claiming to have a girlfriend they love, they sleep with Mercedes, only to then reveal they don’t have a girlfriend, they were just looking for an easy way to sleep with someone – and all they had to do is say they want to make their “girlfriend’s” first time memorable, and bam. She agrees. Yeah, not great.
In a twisted way, it does bring to light how a guys first time is a big deal too, and there is a lot of pressure on them to perform and for there to be fireworks and a huge deal made about it. It works that way for both parties, girls and boys and this book does a good job in highlighting the issue through both genders, whether through Toby or through Angela. But in the case of Mercedes, her reasoning about why she did what she did, felt so wrong to me. After what she went through, I would have expected her character to have more of an awareness of what intimacy means and the vulnerability for a girl – but all this went down the drain with the clear example of Angela. They’re meant to be best friends – when Angela’s boyfriend approaches her, in a weird manner which sets alarm bells ringing in her own head – even if its just suspicions at this point – the first thing you think she would do is tell the best friend – and not hide it from her and instead enable the boyfriend’s behaviour?! LIKE. WOT. Let that sink in.
Also. Okay, come on, Faye’s solution to Mercedes problem was ridiculous. She wanted to take attention off Mercedes, so she goes and makes a supposed sex tape and broadcasts it to the whole school on purpose? Sure it grabs their attention and makes them momentarily forget about the previous scandal – but is that meant to erase the heartbreak of all the other girls, whose boyfriends slept with someone else for their first time, essentially cheating on them? No sir it does not. As a female character, I felt like if Mercedes can think about these girls and want their first times to be great, she should have also had the capacity and depth to think about how those very girls would feel when they found out their boyfriends had cheated on them, with her, on purpose. Not placing the blame solely on her shoulders, it takes two to tango as they say *eyeroll* but she created this whole thing to start with.
On the other hand, I liked Angela’s character, definitely more so than Mercedes, because that tape stunt aside, Faye, to me, was a strong female character, who was aware of her sexuality and was not apologetic for who she was, even with the series of unfortunate event *pun intended* that led her to a new school. Despite being describe as some major hottie, she was kind and honest and not some hated competition character, only featured to make the main character look better in contrast to her horrible nature. I’m glad she was instead made to be a friend, an honest one at that.
Overall though, I was quite disappointed in this book, I had expectations of the kind of story that could have evolved from the topics introduced in this, but instead the potential was left untapped. I am hoping for other authors to pick up on this kinda storyline though and write strong stories about something along the same lines.